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Afghanistan, Ireland chase maiden Test win in battle of spinners

Afg v Ire, only Test, preview

After conceding their respective debut Tests to much stronger opposition, both Afghanistan and Ireland will be keen to get a decisive result in their favour when they clash in the only Test in Dehradun, starting on Friday, 15 March

Overview

Afghanistan v Ireland
Only Test
Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Dehradun
Friday, 15 March; 09:30am local, 04:00am GMT

Both Afghanistan and Ireland have taken similar routes to Test status. They showed a great deal of potential in limited-overs cricket, where they competed against, and pushed, some of the world’s top teams.

Simultaneously, they began to dominate the ICC Intercontinental Cup, the first-class cricket tournament of the Associates, where Afghanistan have made the finals of each of the three editions they have competed in, winning the title twice, and Ireland are record four-time champions.

It led to both teams making their respective Test debuts, within a month of each other last summer – Ireland against Pakistan at home, and Afghanistan against the world’s No. 1 Test team India in Bengaluru. Ireland gave Pakistan a tough fight in the second innings, after being asked to follow on, and dismissed half the Pakistan line-up in a chase of 160. Afghanistan, on the other hand, were walloped by India, getting bowled out twice in a single day to lose by an innings and 262 runs. Now, both teams face each other for the first time in the long format, each chasing their first wins.

There are a lot of signs that suggest that this Test could have a decisive result. The Dehradun weather, for starters, is forecast to be clear on all five days. And if the limited-overs leg was any indication, then spinners will likely have a big part to play in the Test. How soon will the pitch begin to crumble? When it does, the game usually shifts into top gear.

Drawn Tests on turning tracks in the subcontinent have become rare these days, and if it turns out to be a traditional subcontinental track, then this will end up becoming a contest between the spinners on both sides. Who can exploit the conditions better?

Also likely to play a big part in determining the result is the toss. In Tests played in India since the start of 2017, the team winning the toss has lost only three out of 11 matches. That’s a significant piece of history, and as such, expect the team winning the toss to bat first.

Afghanistan have strengthened their bowling by adding left-arm wrist-spinner Zahir Khan and left-arm medium pacer Sayed Shirzad to their squad. Khan, who has 34 wickets in seven first-class matches at 13.14, was a late addition to the squad, after he cleared a fitness test. Shirzad has four five-wicket hauls in 15 first-class matches, and has averaged 25.38 for his 49 wickets.

Khan will join Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi, the two main spinners, and left-arm spinner Sharafuddin Ashraf and leg-spinning all-rounder Rahmat Shah. Shirzad will bolster a thin fast-bowling pack, featuring Yamin Ahmadzai, Waqar Salamkheil and Wafadar Momand.

A lot of the Ireland Test squad was a part of the limited-overs team, and will take huge confidence from the drawn five-match ODI series. Ireland showed that their spinners can match Afghanistan move for move, playing an equally prominent role in their success.

Can Rashid Khan translate the potential he has shown in limited-overs cricket into success at the Test level?
Can Rashid Khan translate the potential he has shown in limited-overs cricket into success at the Test level?

Though this will be their second Test in India, it will be Afghanistan’s first at 'home', while Ireland are set to play their first away Test. With both teams having traded punches in the preceding ODIs, it sets things up nicely as they begin on an even keel.

Key players
Rashid Khan (Afghanistan): The leg-spinner’s immense limited-overs success makes him a very exciting prospect in the long format. Khan’s Test debut, against India, was far from memorable, as he ended with 2/154, and he will be keen to set that right. He has all the variations and skills needed to succeed at the Test level. But will he come good on that promise, or will he become like South Africa’s Imran Tahir, who also had a similar range of skills, and turn into a limited-overs specialist?

Though Ireland lost the match, Kevin O'Brien was named Player of the Match for his century in Ireland's debut Test
Though Ireland lost the match, Kevin O'Brien was named Player of the Match for his century in Ireland's debut Test

Kevin O’Brien (Ireland): The big-hitting all-rounder has for long been Ireland’s go-to man in big-match situations. In Ireland’s debut Test against Pakistan, O’Brien struck a second-innings century to save Ireland from the ignominy of an innings defeat. O’Brien brings all-round skills and a vast amount of experience, and possesses the striking potential to change the course of the Test in a session.

Conditions
Dehradun has never hosted a Test, but if the ODIs are anything to go by, the track could be slow and low and assist the spinners. Weather is forecast to be clear on all five days.

Squads
Afghanistan: Asghar Afghan (c), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Ihsanullah Janat, Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Nasir Jamal, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Ikram Alikhail, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Wafadar Momand, Yamin Ahmadzai, Sharafudin Ashraf, Waqar Salamkhail, Zahir Khan, Sayed Shirzad

Ireland: William Porterfield (c), Andrew Balbirnie, James Cameron-Dow, George Dockrell, Andy McBrine, Barry McCarthy, James McCollum, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O'Brien, Stuart Poynter (wk), Boyd Rankin, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Lorcan Tucker

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