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Afghanistan first up for Irish in Desert T20 tournament

By Ian Callender

Ireland have been drawn in the same group as Afghanistan, Namibia and hosts UAE in the inaugural Desert T20 tournament next month. It will be Ireland's first match action of the winter and a chance for the squad to improve their form in the shortest format which saw them win only three of the 10 matches played in 2016 - indeed, they lost their last five, including both completed matches at the World Twenty20 in India.

As a result, Ireland have slumped to a world ranking of 17 in Twenty20 cricket and of the eight teams in the UAE next month, only Namibia are below them - and they have not played enough matches to earn an ICC ranking.

The first eight games - two per day - in the tournament, which starts on Saturday January 14, will be played in Abu Dhabi with the remainder, including finals day on January 20, taking place in the Dubai International Stadium.

Scotland and Hong Kong - who are in Group B with the Netherlands and Oman - will open the tournament with Ireland meeting Afghanistan in the second game on the opening day, under the lights in the Sheikh Zayed Stadium.

Ireland then have two days off before returning to action on January 17 against Namibia and 24 hours later they complete the group with their game against UAE. The top two in each group go through to the semi-finals.

Travelling with the full-strength Ireland squad, as a specialist batting coach, will be current selector and Ireland's third most-capped player Andrew White, who retired from the international scene in 2014 after 232 appearances.

Another former Ireland international, Ryan Eagleson, was in La Manga recently with the Dubai squad at a skills training camp as a bowling consultant.

Next month's tournament is Ireland's only action before they face Afghanistan in a nine-match series, across all three formats, in India in March.

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