SHARJAH // There was a vague irony in a team of Irishmen being sent to Sharjah of all places over the St Patrick's Day weekend as part of their mission to qualify for the next World Cup.
The Ireland national cricket team are so professional these days, though, the only lack of lubrication that has worried them here has concerned wickets rather than whistles.
What has confronted them at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium during this tour has been nothing like the green, green grass of home.
They were probably expecting as much. Aaqib Javed, the UAE coach and former Pakistan bowler, says he has never seen a blade of grass on this wicket in 30 years of coming to Sharjah.
And there was certainly no reason to search for the fertiliser now just as Ireland were arriving. Quite the contrary: with a home bowling attack containing just one seam bowler, Kamran Shahzad, then the dustier the better for the UAE.
William Porterfield, Ireland's captain, said he hoped the groundsmen would be watering the batting surface ahead of Wednesday's second World Cricket League fixture. His wishes may well have gone unheeded, though.
"It might spin a bit more but we'll take whatever comes of it and we have to play better cricket at the end of the day," Porterfield said. "We did that [on Monday] to an extent but there are a lot of things we can improve on, in terms of application in the batting department."
The tourists have coped admirably with the alien conditions so far. They had the better of the four-day Intercontinental Cup tie last week and took another step towards qualifying for the World Cup with a five-wicket win on Monday.
Ireland, especially when they had the towering seamer Boyd Rankin in their attack, have traditionally found value in short-pitched pace bowling against UAE batsmen who are more used to facing slow bowlers. It is for that reason that the UAE opted to play these fixtures here. Sharjah is the lowest bouncing of all the international venues in this country.
When Nasir Aziz, the pocket-sized off-spinner, is bowling for example the bounce can sometimes seem subterranean.
"He is not a very tall bowler and he is not going to get much bounce anyway because of the pitch," Porterfield said of Aziz, who was the UAE's standout performer in taking three wickets on Monday. "That can make him pretty difficult to play."
Aziz sparkled on his return to the national team for the first time since 2011, confirming Aaqib's view that he can be a "trump card" for the national team.
"I love to bowl against good players," Aziz said. "These are big players and bowling against them is a real test. Because they are good players you have to think a lot."
Aziz accounted for three experienced professionals in Porterfield, Ed Joyce and Kevin O'Brien, and the variety he has at his disposal clearly discomforted the tourists.
"I didn't have too much trouble reading him to be honest but playing him is a different matter," said Gary Wilson, the Surrey batsman who was Ireland's match winner on Monday. "He has the doosra but it is quite easy to see out of the hand. He bowled all right but if we had a better start maybe he wouldn't have had those figures."
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