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Ireland Underdogs As Cricket’s Newest Test Nations Prepare For Battle

Ireland and Afghanistan have come through the ranks of associate cricket together and they both now sit firmly at the top table of the world game.

The inaugural test between the sides on Friday is a measure of the rise of the game’s two newest test nations.  

It’s been a truly remarkable journey for both nations over the last decade and a friendly rivalry has developed over the last couple of years.

In the early stages, Ireland were seen as the leading associate nation after a string of fine performances in World Cups but since the 2015 World Cup, Afghanistan have gone from strength to strength and certainly have the upper hand over their Irish counterparts.

They go into this test match as nine-to-four on to win the test and it is hard to see anything other than an Afghan victory especially in sub-continent conditions.  

This will be Ireland’s ninth and final game of their tour to Dehradun in North India.

Ireland started the tour by continuing their recent T20 woes, suffering a 3-0 series defeat last month at the hands of Afghanistan, making it ten losses in a row to the world’s eighth-ranked team, a run stretching over five years.  

However, there were plenty of positives to take from the ODI series for Graham Ford’s side, who came from behind twice to eventually tie the series, two apiece.

The return to form of Andrew Balbirnie, who picked up the player of the series award after two-match winning knocks, had to be at the top of that list. Balbirnie will be hoping to impress with the bat after failing to do so last May.

Another positive for Ford would have been the emergence of George Dockrell as a genuine all-rounder after a productive winter with both bat and ball.

The Leinster Lightning captain now looks set to make his test debut after being controversially overlooked for selection in Ireland’s first test last May.  

Ireland will have to negotiate the dangerous spin attack that Afghanistan possess, including Mohammed Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Rashid Khan if they are to have any chance of winning their first test match.

Khan, who is only 20 years old, has established himself firmly as one of the hottest prospects in the game, having picked up his 200th international wicket last week.

Ireland are without Niall O’Brien and Ed Joyce from their first test match, who both recently retired leaving behind a major hole in the Irish batting line-up.

One man looking to fill the void left behind is Waringstown’s, James McCollum. The 23-year-old had an international debut to forget after getting out for a first ball duck in the opening ODI of the series before sitting out the rest of the series.

He is still in pole position for the remaining spot in the top order, however, with Porterfield, Balbirnie and Stirling set to bat in the top four also.

Ireland and Afghanistan enjoyed vastly different starts to their test careers; Ireland produced a fine display against Pakistan last May, taking the match to the final day albeit the opening day was a washout.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, were humbled inside two days by a Virat Kohli-less India side last summer and will no doubt be looking to rectify that on Friday.

Irish captain William Porterfield was under no illusion of the differences between Malahide and Dehradun when he was speaking at his press conference on the eve of the test.

“First and foremost, it will be completely different conditions [in the Test match] – our first Test match against Pakistan was a home game in Malahide in May whereas we are in Dehradun here in India in March. We will see how the pitch is in the next couple of days and expect it to be very different.”

There is no denying that Ireland go into this test match as underdogs, but the Boys in Green have played their best cricket in the last ten years wearing that tag. How fitting would it be if Ireland were to get their maiden test match victory almost twelve years on from St. Patrick’s Day 07’ where they announced themselves on the world stage beating Pakistan in the World Cup?

They will be hoping to recreate the spirit of Kingston ‘07, Bangalore ‘11 and Nelson ‘15 which saw them shock the world.

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Author: Seán Hussey

Irishman who loves an array of sports.