Ian Callender (Sunday Life)
IRELAND’S nemesis in Twenty20 cricket, Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan, is certain to be front and centre when the latest series between the teams gets under way in Greater Noida on Friday.
The world ranked No 1 bowler in the shortest format has taken 29 wickets in 10 T20 matches against Ireland – all won by Afghanistan – including nine in the previous three-match series in Noida in 2017, but Ireland skipper Andrew Balbirnie is looking forward to the challenge in T20 World Cup year.
“Every time you play Rashid and Mohammad Nabi you learn something,” said Balbirnie “and the younger guys like Harry Tector and Gareth Delany will also benefit from playing those guys in India.
“In the group stages at the World Cup in Australia, we are going to come up against two teams who will be top heavy with spinners in Oman and Sri Lanka, so it’s invaluable to get the chance to play in India against two of the best spinners (on turning pitches).”
Encouragingly, Tector and Delany were the two highest run-scorers in Ireland Wolves’ five-match T20 series against Namibia, which only finished last week, but this will be a test on a much superior scale.
“Afghanistan are such a powerful team in T20 cricket but most of the lads have played against them and hopefully with a few of the guys showing form on the Wolves trip we can put in some performances that will give our coach sitting at home something to cheer about.”
Graham Ford misses the tour after cracking three ribs and a vertebrae in a fall at home while on the playing side Mark Adair is the one enforced change from the squad which drew the T20 series in West Indies last month. He is replaced by Northern Knights team-mate Shane Getkate
“We have a good core squad in limited overs cricket with experienced cricketers in Paul Stirling, Kevin O’Brien, George Dockrell and Boyd Rankin the spine of the team, but we want to keep expanding it to cover for injuries,” added Balbirnie.
“That’s how Shane has got in and hopefully he can take that with both hands if he gets that opportunity.
“It might not necessarily be next week but we have so many T20 games coming up this year that we will need our expanded squad.”