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Ireland eye first test win over Afghanistan

Ireland eye first test win over Afghanistan

 


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Ireland's Lorcan Tucker plays a shot during the third day of the Test cricket match between Bangladesh and Ireland at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka on April 6, 2023. (Photo by Munir uz ZAMAN / AFP) (Photo by MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

They were almost twins. Young cricket countries with not much in between. But then the dynamics change.

There would be fights. An occasional cry of foul play. Mohammad Nabi perhaps not quite within the border? What a fight between brothers.

But while big brother used to control little brother. Now the little brother has gone far ahead. And they call their older brother or sister to ask how they are doing and if they are really doing well, as they said at Christmas. They were the two most successful countries in the ICC Intercontinental Cup (remember that competition? Multi-day cricket between associated countries. Wild, right?).

Even then, change was already underway. In 2007/08, Ireland completed a hat-trick of titles, while Afghanistan were not even among them. But they would soon arrive and make their mark.

The two countries were simultaneously granted testing status in 2017. A bit like a child receiving a prize. Then everyone realizes that we better give them both something.

Undoubtedly things have changed. Afghanistan is looking optimistically at the 2024 T20 World Cup after almost making it to the semi-finals of the 2023 ODI World Cup. Only super freak Glenn Maxwell stood in the way. However, Ireland didn't even qualify.

But one key difference will always matter to purists in some circles: test wins. Ireland have played seven and failed to secure that elusive first win.

Afghanistan, in comparison, achieved their first Test victory in their second Test. Against Ireland of course. Take that big brother.

Ireland, meanwhile, have had their moments against Pakistan – in their first-ever Test – and against England in 2019. But they have never been able to seize the key moments.

The question arises: could they finally do it? Well, there is quite a bit of compensation for that.

Firstly, Ireland no longer plays domestic red ball cricket. Plus no recent Ireland A cricket. So it is a group that learns along the way. And it feels like they've been doing that for a while.

There were moments of development in Galle and Mirpur. But then we wake up in Lord's for three very long days.

Afghanistan, by comparison, has its own multi-day competition. Moreover, more of their cricketers play in leagues around the world. Always valuable knowledge to take back with you.

Ireland will know the opposition very well having played against them so many times. However, the ground presents something new.

A late change means the one-off Test match will be held at Tolerance Oval – the secondary ground of the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi. This makes Tolerance Oval the 122nd cricket ground in the world to host men's Test cricket. So a slight air of mystery to the proceedings.

Ireland Test captain Andrew Balbirnie has said he still knows his playing XI.

We will likely see McBrine team up with the slow left-handed Theo van Woerkom. Maybe Dockrell as a third option. Then Adair and Young's seam work. A funkier option could mean short, quick spells of Barry McCarthy for Van Woerkom. Maybe Dockrell and Tector will provide backup.

Champion leg-spinner Rashid Khan is not returning from injury as expected. But Ireland will find Afghanistan's other spin options a major challenge.

Perhaps the final mystery is who exactly is the big brother/little brother in Ireland's Afghanistan dynamic? Or maybe that's what they're playing for. A contest of brotherly love?

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