Andrew Balbirnie sees the upcoming series against Afghanistan as a critical piece in the squad’s preparation for the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year.

Friday's first match is also the 1000th played by the Irish since 1855 and this makes it an extra sweet moment for the Pembroke man.

“It's always special to lead an Ireland team out - I haven't done it a lot, but doing it for the first time in the Caribbean was the proudest moment of my career to date," said Balbirnie. "The 1,000th game is a testament to everyone involved in Irish cricket through the years, and all the work that has been done behind the scenes - we as players are just very fortunate to go out there and play in the landmark game.

"There have been so many memorable game in the past, so our job is to make sure there are just as many memorable games in the future.”

The three-game series will give the Irish a chance to build on the improvement they showed in the format last year after a horror run. They have moved up to 13th from a low point of 18th, and victory would see them move above Scotland in 12th.

“All of the T20s we play leading into the world cup are important, I've stressed that with the guys. We've got so many opportunities to play top teams in this format, so going into the world cup at the end of the year we should be as prepared as we have ever been.

"The guys know there are plenty of opportunities to impress, to stake a claim and book a ticket on that flight – and hopefully put in performances to win us games."

It won't be easy against an Afghanistan side who have had the upper hand against the Irish in recent times. The Asian side have won the last ten T20 encounters and you have to go back to 2013 for the last Irish win.

“There's no shying away from the fact that Afghanistan have had our number in T20 Internationals. We've certainly got a point to prove against these guys - we know them pretty well, we've played them a lot of times in all formats of cricket, and we probably know what sort of game plan they'll try to bring against us.

"But the beauty of it is that we've got guys coming in who have been impressing from the off, so it will be interesting to see how we go in this series against a good outfit.

“Gary Wilson and Graham Ford over the last 18 months have taken this team forward - I was just the fortunate one who was captain when we beat the West Indies - but there had been a lot of hard work done in the background to get us to where we are now.

"We're by no means the finished article at all, but we're going in the right direction, and if we keep heading in that direction every time we go out and train or play then this team will be in a much better place.”