Ireland eye first Test win over Afghanistan

At the eighth time of asking, Ireland’s Test cricketers hope to finally be delivered.

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 nations with not much between them. But then the dynamic changes.

There would be tussles. The occasional cry of foul play. Mohammad Nabi maybe not quite inside the boundary? What’s a bit of fight between brothers.

Yet whereas big brother used to check up on little brother. Now little brother has gone way ahead. And they’re calling their older sibling to see how they’re doing and if things really are going okay like they said at Christmas. They were the two most successful nations in the ICC Intercontinental Cup (remember that competition? Multi-day cricket between associate nations. Wild, right?).

Even back then a change was happening. In 2007/2008 Ireland completed a hat-trick of titles with Afghanistan not even there. But they would soon arrive and make their mark.

The two nations got Test status in 2017 at the same time. A bit like one child getting a prize. Then everyone realising we better just give them both something.

Things have undoubtedly changed. Afghanistan are looking optimistically to the 2024 T20 World Cup having almost made the semi-finals of the 2023 ODI World Cup. Only super freak Glenn Maxwell stood in the way. Ireland however didn’t even qualify.

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

Afghanistan in comparison secured their first Test win 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 begs itself, could they finally do it? Well there’s quite a bit counting against.

For one, Ireland don’t play domestic red ball cricket any more. Plus no recent Ireland A cricket. So it’s a group learning on the road. And it feels like they’ve been doing that for quite a while.

There were moments of development in Galle and Mirpur. But then wake up calls in Lord’s over three very long days.

Afghanistan in comparison have their own multi-day competition. Plus more of their cricketers play in leagues around the world. Always valuable knowledge to bring back.

Ireland will be very familiar with the opposition having played them so often. The ground however presents something new.

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

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

We’re likely to see McBrine partnered with slow left armer Theo van Woerkom. Maybe Dockrell as a third option. Then seam duties from Adair and Young. A funkier option could see short quick spells of Barry McCarthy in for van Woerkom. Maybe Dockrell and Tector providing backup spin.

Champion leg spinner Rashid Khan doesn’t come back from injury as expected. But Ireland will find Afghanistan’s other spin options a major challenge.

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

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