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Gary Wilson set to lead the Irish charge in UAE test

By Ian Callender

It is an Ireland line-up worthy of a one-day international but this week supporters get the chance to watch the top players in four-day cricket.

The United Arab Emirates may not be the most attractive opposition - there is likely to be around 9,000 fewer spectators in Malahide in total than watched last month's glamour tie against England - but hopefully the Ireland batsmen can fill their boots with runs as they start out on the road to Test match status tomorrow (11am).

With a place among the elite at the highest level of the game for the winners of the Intercontinental Cup, John Bracewell is the first Ireland coach able to name a full strength line-up for a game which clashes with a full programme of county cricket in England.

In Niall O'Brien and Gary Wilson, he has two in-form batsmen and while Ed Joyce has not repeated the start to the county season he enjoyed last year, he remains Ireland's classiest batsman - and he scored 155 in his last I-Cup innings against this week's opponents.

Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie cannot force their way into the Middlesex championship side but they have been scoring runs for fun in the 2nd XI - and if they stay any length of time will score runs quickly and in an entertaining manner.

Captain William Porterfield is the one batsman who has struggled for runs this season - and was dropped by Warwickshire last week for their four-day game - but scores of 41 and 81 for the Seconds will have done his confidence no harm as he comes home for only his second multi-day game in Ireland since 2007.

The biggest bonus for Ireland, however, is in the bowling department where Tim Murtagh proved his fitness in a 2nd XI game for Middlesex last week and will take his place in an Ireland line-up for the first time in 13 months!

The 33-year-old seamer's last game for Ireland was the ODI against Sri Lanka at Clontarf and figures of 10-1-21-2 only underline how much he has been missed.

His one previous game at Malahide was against England in 2013 when he ripped through the top order batting to finish with three for 33.

Down the years his performances with the red ball have been even better, yet, remarkably, he has played only one multi-day game for Ireland since his debut in 2012.

That was against UAE in Sharjah when he conceded just 28 runs in 18 overs and his accuracy and movement in home conditions should yield even better reward.

He will share the new ball with Craig Young who took six wickets on his I-Cup debut, against Scotland two years ago, but he too will be playing only his second game with a red ball for Ireland.

If his form in the inter-provincials this season can be backed up at the higher level, Ireland should make early inroads into a UAE line-up which proved his fragility in the warm-up game against Scotland last week; they were bowled out in the first innings for 73.

They had the excuse of being caught cold on their arrival in the UK but a second innings total of 278 should not put any fear into an Ireland side who have that incentive of a crack at Test match cricket if they can win the I-Cup for a record fifth successive time. Maximum points this week is the starting point.

Ireland squad: W Porterfield (capt), J Anderson, A Balbirnie, G Dockrell, E Joyce, J Mooney, T Murtagh, A McBrine, K O'Brien, N O'Brien, P Stirling, S Thompson, G Wilson, C Young.

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