Afghanistan host Ireland at their adopted home of Dehradun for a five-day Test match – only the second for both countries since their admission to cricket’s elite. This would be Afghanistan’s debut “home” Test, despite it being on Indian soil in the foothills of the Himalayas. Afghanistan won the three-match T20I series 3-0 while the five-match ODI series was drawn 2-2 with one game ending without a result because of rain. The two young sides in world cricket will now play in their only Test starting March 15th.
In their opening Tests, both newest members to gain Test cricket status were beaten. While Afghanistan were easily swept aside by India last year, Ireland pushed Pakistan but eventually came short.
Since then both teams have focused on the shorter formats rather than the more traditional, longest form of the game. Afghanistan qualified for the World Cup in England, and will open their campaign against Australia in Bristol on June 2nd. But the focus for now is very much on the Test match, which had to be brought forward by four days so it didn’t clash with the start of the Indian Premier League on March 23rd.
Afghanistan’s three spin bowlers – Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb-ur-Rehman – are expected to feature in the IPL, which is now beginning earlier to give all the players rest ahead of the World Cup.
10.00am March 15th, Friday – March 19th, Tuesday
Afghanistan had a forgettable debut in the longer format against India in Bengaluru last year as the top-ranked team walloped them by an innings and 262 runs in two days. Nine months since the debut, their second Test though are against opponents much moderate this time. The Test match will take place in India again – at Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Dehradun where the two teams have already been playing a full-fledged series.
Led by batsman Ashgar Afghan, Afghanistan have added left-arm wrist-spinner Zahir Khan and left-arm pacer Sayed Shirzad in their squad for the Test match. The 20-year-old Zahir made his international debut in the final ODI against Ireland last Sunday, finishing with 2 wickets for 55 runs. Zahir had earlier played for Afghanistan in the Intercontinental Cup in 2015, bagging 7 for 69 on first-class debut against Papua New Guinea and was also a member of the squad that reached the semi-final of the Under-19 World Cup held last year.
In first-class cricket, Zahir has 34 scalps from seven games at an average of just over 13. Zahir has also featured in England’s T20 Blast and came close to making debut in the Indian Premier League last year for Rajasthan Royals but for an injury. The Afghanistan team management monitored the injury-prone bowler before adding him to the squad against Ireland.
24-year-old Shirzad has already played in four T20Is though he made his ODI debut in the same series against Ireland. The seamer has 49 wickets from 15 matches in first-class cricket at an average of just over 25. “Both Zahir Khan and Sayed Shirzad have very good bowling records in first-class cricket and have played in the ICC Intercontinental Cup for Afghanistan,” chief selector Dawlat Ahmadzi was quoted as saying by icc-cricket.com.
All eyes will also be on leg-spinner Rashid Khan in the Test. He had an ordinary outing against India in the Bengaluru Test last year and the fans will be eager to see how he does in his second game in red ball cricket.
In the absence of Gary Wilson, Ireland will be captained by William Porterfield. Wilson is still recovering from a condition which affects his vision and missed the entire tour.
Players like Kevin O’Brien, Boyd Rankin and captain William Porterfield remain entrenched in the Ireland squad, while other 2007 World Cup veterans like Niall O’Brien and Ed Joyce – albeit playing for England at that particular tournament – were right there up to last summer when Ireland played that historic first ever Test match against Pakistan in Malahide.
Ireland’s four spinners – Andy McBrine, George Dockrell, James Cameron-Dow and Simi Singh – together took five wickets and gave away just 167 runs in 39 overs to stifle Afghanistan in the final ODI. It left Ireland with a straightforward chase of 217, which they completed with plenty to spare.
Right through the series, Ireland’s spinners have played an integral role in keeping the Afghanistan batsmen under check. Dockrell has led those efforts with eight wickets – the highest from either side – in five matches at 25. “They’ve all done pretty good,” Balbirnie said.
“We’re going to be on one of the wickets we’ve played on already, so I imagine it will play pretty similar. But if it does play pretty similar, then it will be a challenge against their spinners no doubt. The way our spinners have bowled, though, will give us a lot of confidence going into the Test match.”
William Porterfield(c), Andrew Balbirnie, James Cameron-Dow, George Dockrell, Andy McBrine, Barry McCarthy, James McCollum, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O Brien, Stuart Poynter, Boyd Rankin, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Lorcan Tucker
Asghar Afghan(c), Mohammad Shahzad, Ihsanullah Janat, Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Nasir Jamal, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Ikram Ali Khil, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Wafadar Momand, Yamin Ahmadzai, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Waqar Salamkheil, Sayed Shirzad, Zahir Khan
Ireland performed relatively well against Pakistan in their maiden Test. They will be led by the experienced William Porterfield and the team has the quality of Andrew Balbirnie and Kevin O’Brien in the batting lineup while Boyd Rankin, Simi Singh and George Dockrell are the standout names among the bowlers.
Afghanistan with a batting lineup of renowned international names now are expected to do well. In the bowling department, they have the quality of spinners Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Zahir Khan who are as good as any around the world. Asghar Afghan will lead the side while wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Shahzad would be a special attraction.
They are still evolving as a Test side and their disappointing defeat against India in their opening Test would have been a strong blow to their self confidence. The Afghans would like to make amends in their second Test.
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