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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 March 2019

Afghanistan set for first 'home Test' in India against Ireland

Test cricket's newest members will play their second Test after playing three T20s and five ODIs – also in Dehradun

Afghanistan will host Ireland in the northern Indian city of Dehradun next month for their second Test. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo
Afghanistan will host Ireland in the northern Indian city of Dehradun next month for their second Test. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo

Afghanistan will host Ireland in the northern Indian city of Dehradun for three Twenty20 internationals, five one-day internationals and a Test match – only the second for both countries since their admission to cricket's elite.

Afghanistan lost to India last year in its very first Test, and Ireland were beaten by Pakistan.

Since then, both teams have been focused on the game's shorter formats rather than the more traditional, long form. Afghanistan qualified for the Cricket World Cup in England after edging out the more experienced Zimbabwe, and they will open their campaign against Australia at Bristol on June 2.

But the focus for now is very much on the one-off Test, which had to be brought forward by four days so it did not clash with the start of the Indian Premier League (IPL) on March 23.

Afghanistan's three spin bowlers – Rashid Khan, Mohammed Nabi and Mujeeb-ur-Rehman – will feature in the lucrative IPL, which is now beginning earlier to give all the players rest ahead of the World Cup.

"Keeping in mind the dates of the Indian Premier League, in which three of Afghanistan's main players will be participating, the dates were slightly adjusted," Afghanistan Cricket Board chief executive Shafiqullah Stanikzai said. "And I would like to thank Cricket Ireland for honouring our request."

In the absence of Gary Wilson, Ireland will be led by Paul Stirling in the T20s before William Porterfield takes over the captaincy for the ODIs and the Test.

Wilson is still recovering a condition which affects his vision, diagnosed in December last year, and will miss the entire tour.

"It's a privilege to have been asked to captain the side [and] I will relish the challenge," Stirling said. "Having started off in this side as a young player in 2008, the influence of senior players like Trent Johnston, Kyle McCallan, Andrew White and Ed Joyce were huge in developing the cricketer and the person.

"It is a big year ahead for us with the T20 World Cup qualifiers coming up in October, so the importance is growing with each game we play."

Afghanistan selectors have tried to balance experience and consistency with the need to develop more players for the international game, and have made changes to their squads for each format.

All-rounder Sahrafuddin Ashraf, Ikram Ali Khil and 17-year-old left-arm fast bowler Waqar Salamkhail were named in the 14-member Test squad as Afghanistan, which did not include Amir Hamza and Zahir Khan and three other players who were involved in their country's inaugural Test.

Ashraf is not part of Afghanistan's expanded 21-member squad for the ODIs, but will feature in the T20s. Khil will be vying for a spot in the World Cup as he was also named in the ODI squad, but was left out from the T20s.

Afghanistan's seasoned campaigners such as Dawlat Zadran and Shapoor Zadran have been given an opportunity to muscle their way into the World Cup squad and show their prowess during the ODIs along with hard-hitting batsman Hazratullah Zazai, a rookie spotted during Afghanistan's domestic T20 league, held in the UAE.

Surprisingly, Afghan selectors have left out accomplished T20 wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammed Shahzad from the T20s, but the burly right-hander will be in contention to go to the World Cup in England after he was included in the squads for the ODIs and Test against Ireland.

Playing in India – Afghanistan's adopted home – will pose a stern challenge to the Ireland batsmen, with the wickets likely to suit the Afghan spinners.

But Porterfield was optimistic about his team's prospects, particularly after giving Pakistan an early scare in his country's inaugural Test in Dublin last May.

"I expect this to be a great contest away from home," Porterfield said. "We have a great balance throughout the squad and it's great to see some new faces get the opportunity."

Updated: February 20, 2019 06:13 PM

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