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Fired-up Irish are eager to finally shine on T20 stage

By Ian Callender

A new ground but familiar opponents in a country where they enjoyed their greatest win awaited Ireland this morning in the first of three Twenty20 internationals.

Greater Noida, on the outskirts of India's heaving capital New Delhi, is the venue for all nine of Ireland's matches against Afghanistan which take place over the next three weeks, but the tourists face a huge task if they want to claim first blood.

The shortest format is, comfortably, Ireland's weakest suit - one glance at the world rankings would indicate that - with William Porterfield's side down in 15th place, six behind the team which defeated them twice in the Desert T20 tournament in the UAE just seven weeks ago.

The 14-man squad remains a work in progress with the experience of Ed Joyce, Niall O'Brien, Tim Murtagh plus Andrew Balbirnie all taking a watching brief for the next week until the five-match one-day international series begins.

For today and the second and third games on Friday and Sunday, it is Peter Chase, Lorcan Tucker and Greg Thompson who are filling the roles of T20 specialists although, paradoxically, there is no guarantee that any of them will get a game.

Thompson was the only one to play in the Desert T20 final and although he finished 10 not out, he used up 16 balls, admittedly while six wickets fell at the other end for just 30 runs, Ireland were bowled out for a miserable 71, their second lowest total in T20 cricket.

That is the game which will give the momentum to Afghanistan, rather than Ireland's two 50-over wins against UAE last week as coach John Bracewell admits.

"We faced a better bowling attack and our guys got a little over-excited," he recalled. "But that is the learning of a young group, there were far more positives than negatives from what was an outstanding tournament, outstanding facilities and played on really good grounds.

"I've started to learn some good things about some guys, and added guys who have contributed and you could see them really going forward as regards to Irish cricket.

"Now we are ready to face Afghanistan in what will be a titanic battle. They are a good team and will be a really good measure for us. It will be good to play them on their own soil in terms of our growth because if we want to compete with the big boys we have to grow."

Afghanistan have included all 11 of the team that won the Dubai final in their squad for the three-match series while only the unlucky Stuart Poynter is missing from the Ireland panel.

Stuart Thompson will be his replacement as opening batsman with Porterfield despite his nightmare series in the desert - he scored just 34 runs in five innings - staying at first wicket down and hoping to maintain his form against UAE, when he scored a century and 76 in the two ODIs.

Thompson's inclusion is also likely to mean that Barry McCarthy's wait for his T20 debut will go on with Ireland set to play all three slow spinners, including 21-year-old Jacob Mulder.

Boyd Rankin, having been rested against UAE, will lead the bowling attack although he will be more anxious than most to get among the wickets; he has only one in four games against Afghanistan

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