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Cricket news - Two hungry sides with a chance to make history
Boyd Rankin knows what's it like to play in an Ashes Test in front of a packed stadium. He's felt the sinking feeling after a massive Test defeat. Kevin O'Brien knows what's it like score a Test century. He's been in that moment where his efforts over five days haven't been enough to prevent a loss, despite his side doing everything they could. Rashid Khan, the champion bowler in limited-overs cricket, realises Test cricket can be unforgiving. Mohammad Nabi understands the pain of a Test duck.
Players from both Ireland and Afghanistan have gone through the grind of Test cricket. Ireland went through the ebbs and flows of the longest format, kept Pakistan in check for a while before it all came crashing down on the final day. Afghanistan were handed some harsh lessons from India as their Test jamboree lasted only two days. Both sides have had time to reflect on their defeats and work on their errors. When the players walk on the opening day of the one-off Test in Dehradun, only a win will soothe the pain they had to go through in their maiden Test.
As the cricket world is getting used to teams winning away, Ireland come into the game with a massive opportunity to make a statement. Afghanistan have several things favouring them and a win for Ireland will go a long way in ensuring Test cricket too becomes a priority for the generations to follow. If they go on to win in Dehradun, it'll be considered the starting point where their Test history started taking shape.
Afghanistan are a mean machine in Indian conditions. The visitors found that out in the T20I series but their series-levelling effort in the ODIs should hold them in good stead. The usual suspects are again likely to haunt Ireland and the one-off Test will be a thorough Test of their temperament. If Ireland can find a way to keep Rashid at bay, they could find themselves in a position to dominate.
While bowling is certainly Afghanistan's stronger suit, their batting could well be their Achilles heel. The onus will be on the batsmen to give the bowlers the much-needed cushion of runs before the spinners can come into their own. On the batting front, Asghar Afghan and Mohammad Nabi will hold the key for the hosts as the contest could well be about Afghanistan's spinners vs the Irish batsmen. They also have two surprise packages in Waqar Salamkheil and Zahir Khan. The left-arm wrist spin duo have a fantastic record in first-class cricket - averaging 21.46 and 13.14 - with 56 wickets (in seven games) and 34 wickets (in seven games) in their bags respectively.
The challenge for both Ireland and Afghanistan will how well they adapt to the demands of Test cricket. It will not only be the test of their skills but it'll also be about how much they can exert themselves when things aren't favouring them. Two hungry sides with a chance to make history will take the field. It'll all boil down to how good are the players at shutting down the noise and enjoying the pounding of the 'greatest all-round challenge in modern sport'.
What: Afghanistan v Ireland, one-off Test, March 15-19, 0930 local time, 0400 GMT
Where: Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Dehradun
What to expect: The forecast for the Test is extremely promising with all five days expected to have clear weather. Bowlers will have a big say in the contest with both pacers and spinners coming into the picture.
Afghanistan: The first dilemma in front of the hosts will be of their spin combination. The selectors have decided to drop Mujeeb ur Rahman and make the late inclusion of Zahir. While Nabi and Rashid - the two frontline spin options - are certain starters, the toss up will be between Salamkheil and Zahir.
Ireland: George Dockrell and Simi Singh, with some support from Paul Stirling, are expected to be Ireland's spin options with the onus of scoring runs on the likes of William Porterfield, Andrew Balbirnie and O'Brien.
What they said:
"It is a moment of pride that Afghanistan hosts its first Test match and it carries a lot of meaning for us. Although, we lost our inaugural Test match to India last year but we will aim to play in the upcoming Test match with full strength" - Asghar Afghan
"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 not to be very different" - William Porterfield
Afghanistan: 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: 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
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