The idea of two low-ranked teams contesting in one-day cricket in the unfashionable desert heat of Abu Dhabi may seem barely tantamount to the unfathomable spectacle that played out in Brisbane on Tuesday. But such quips can only succeed in inviting accusations of flippancy. For these are two teams who have played each other every year since 2015 and even though it may not be apparent on paper, there’s little that separates them.
Ireland, after the highs of chasing down 328 against England last summer, should have played more but haven’t. Even upon arriving in UAE and spending New Year’s locked in their hotel rooms, when they did finally get to play, they lost to UAE and had the rest of the fixtures stalled with four Emirati players testing positive for the coronavirus. However, they managed to win convincingly in a rescheduled fixture on Monday by a 112-run margin.
As for Afghanistan, they return to International cricket after a 10-month hiatus having last played against Ireland in March 2020. Upon failing to procure visas to UAE initially, a new venue in Oman was proposed but turned down by Ireland. New dates were then agreed upon mutually as new visas came through in a last-minute delirium. There has been plenty of upheaval off the field already but it seems now that it would do little to distract the series on cards, not least with crucial World Cup Super League points up for grabs.
As the two sides prepare to take the field on Thursday, they would do so with an eye on the upcoming World Cup two years away. For Ireland, they would be keen to put the memories of a loss to their Asian counterparts in the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers in a do-or-die clash to rest. They come into the series with a settled squad having shown their depth against UAE and their experience against England.
Afghanistan wouldn’t be too anxious about not having enough game time on their hands in the past few months with six players involved in various T20 leagues around the world. They did, however, play a warm-up fixture on Saturday against Ireland and went on to register a 22-run win.
ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League
Game one of a three ODI series:
10am Local Time/ 6am GMT Thursday, 21st January 2021.
Abu Dhabi International Stadium, Abu Dhabi.
Pitch conditions: The series between UAE and Ireland was played on a sluggish track assisting slower bowlers making batting look rather difficult as the game progressed. Teams have won 31 games batting first as opposed to 17 chasing.
Weather: Despite odd hours of rain that put paid to Ireland’s training sessions earlier in the month, sunny spells are forecast for the week.
How the teams stack up:
Rahmanullah Gurbaz, the 19-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman, is set to make his ODI debut tomorrow (read our interview with him here). The spin trio of Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb Zadran and Rashid Khan are back from the Big Bash League and will look to pose serious questions along with new-ball operator Naveen-Ul-Haq.
Squad: Asghar Afghan(C), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (WK), Rahmat Shah, Naveen-Ul-Haq, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan(VC), Yamin Ahmadzai, Usman Ghani, Azmatullah Omarzai, Gulbadin Naib, Sayed Shirzad, Javed Ahmadi, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Sharafuddin Ashraf.
Captain Andrew Balbirnie admitted yesterday that after Simi Singh’s career-best performance against UAE, he will be one of the first names on the team sheet. Kevin O’Brien looks set to continue his new role opening the batting to complement Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie at the top. Little to no changes are expected after a comprehensive victory in the second ODI against UAE.
Squad: Andrew Balbirnie (c), Mark Adair, Curtis Campher, Gareth Delany, Shane Getkate, Josh Little, Andrew McBrine, Barry McCarthy, James McCollum, Kevin O’Brien, Neil Rock, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker, Craig Young.
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