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Irish need to up their game with huge summer ahead

 

By Ian Callender

It proved a game too far for Ireland in the heat of Greater Noida as Afghanistan confirmed their superiority in all three formats to relegate William Porterfield's squad to second place in the Associate rankings.

With 40 points still available and Afghanistan's next game in Hong Kong, where Scotland's match was washed out without a ball bowled, all is not lost in Ireland's defence of their Intercontinental Cup title but the bottom line is, the result this week was not a surprise.

Afghanistan are, quite simply, the better team with the better players and in their own conditions they are almost unbeatable against their peers. The worry for Ireland, moving forward, is that the margin of an innings and 172 runs was Afghanistan's biggest - and Ireland's worst - and on the same ground, Papua New Guinea bowled the Afghans out for 144 and they scored only 334 against Namibia, albeit in their only innings.

"Over the three days (one less than scheduled) we were beaten by a better team skilled in their own conditions," was Porterfield's honest summing up of their latest defeat.

It was only Ireland's third in the competition's history - and the first since they lost to Afghanistan in Sri Lanka in January 2010 - but it was their ninth out of 11 against the Afghans in the last two months.

No excuses were offered by Porterfield although he could have mentioned that Boyd Rankin played in only the first two Desert T20 games - a format where Ireland have been on the decline for the last two years - Kevin O'Brien was fit for only one of the last five matches and Paul Stirling broke a finger on the first day of the I-Cup game.

In alien conditions, Ireland need their best players on the park if they are to compete with the best - and for now that includes Afghanistan. Despite a National Academy, still in its infancy, the senior Ireland squad is chronically weak in depth, a fact underlined by coach John Bracewell's failure to change from his perceived first choice line-up despite the losing sequence.

Craig Young was a water carrier for the last eight games and Barry McCarthy played in only two of the 16 games despite being with the squad on both trips to the UAE and for the last three weeks in India.

There is only one thing worse than being part of a losing team and that is not being in the team.

But already questions are being asked and, on the cricket forums, the knives are out for Bracewell.

Is he the right man to take Ireland into the promised land of Test cricket and future World Cups?

A record of 21 wins from 57 matches - and one win out of 11 against Full Members - is an underwhelming statistic under Bracewell's reign but, I understand, his future will not be up for discussion at next week's Cricket Ireland board meeting.

He is contracted to the end of Ireland's I-Cup campaign in November but with ODIs against England, New Zealand, Bangladesh and the West Indies plus four-day games against the Netherlands and Scotland, it can only be positive performances which will grant him a contract extension.

As his line manager, CI Performance Director Richard Holdsworth, said yesterday: "He has my full support but results are results and there haven't been some good results and therefore this summer is very important for that."

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