Irish pitch up hoping to bring back good times
Ireland captain William Porterfield is hoping that the good pitches in the UAE will ensure a promising start to 2017.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been happy hunting grounds for the team in recent years and their first action of the year takes place in the inaugural Desert T20, an eight-team competition for the top Associate nations.
The batsmen are particularly fond of the two main stadiums in the Emirates with Ireland's top four Twenty20 totals (all over 200) all having been made in Sheikh Zayed, in the UAE's capital, as have six of the top eight individual scores (three by Porterfield and three by Paul Stirling), the other two coming in the Dubai International Stadium.
Ireland will play their first two games in the tournament in Abu Dhabi, against favourites Afghanistan on Saturday evening followed by a clash against Namibia on Tuesday afternoon, before the squad move to Dubai to face the hosts 24 hours later.
Since Ireland played in the first World qualifying tournament in the desert in 2010, they have been perennial favourites in all Associate tournaments, culminating in a clean sweep in 2013.
But in the last two years, Ireland have lost their aura and status as the No 1 Associate side in white ball (one-day) cricket, with their nadir last year's World Twenty20 when they lost to Oman.
It didn't get any better after that and Ireland have lost their last six games in the shortest format so have much to prove next week, as Porterfield accepts.
"At previous qualifiers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi - and there have been a lot - we have done well and played pretty good cricket on good pitches so we're looking forward to getting out there and putting things right," said the captain.
"If we enjoy our cricket we can get results and if we get that winning feeling back it will be a good week."
On paper it looks as if Porterfield has a good blend of youth and experience with 10 survivors from the World T20 debacle in India being joined by 17-year-old pace bowler Josh Little and 21-year-old CIYMS leg spinner Jacob Mulder, both of whom made their debuts at Bready in September in Ireland's last T20 against Hong Kong.
Greg Thompson, the Waringstown batsman who was recalled to that side for the first time in eight years, also retains his place in the squad while Barry McCarthy, who made his debut in June and has impressed in his first eight one-day internationals, will play his first international in the shortest format.
"Josh impressed in Bready, didn't seem fazed by anything and seems a relaxed and confident young kid. Jacob gives us a different option and a couple of weeks together and being around the squad can only help them," added Porterfield.
"Greg has reinvented himself in a format he has done really well in and he has no fear and backs his ability - and that's one thing that we need at this level.
"He will slot into the squad easily enough. When you get uptight you can come up short in this format."
Porterfield is also hoping that his Warwickshire team-mate Boyd Rankin will hit the ground running and offers much more than his match contribution.
"Boyd missed the last three months of the summer with injury so he is fresh and it's great having him back, as much for his professionalism, as well as being 6ft 8in and bowling mid-80s (mph), to help the young boys. It will be good to have him around again," he added.
The squad have already spent a week together at a skills camp in La Manga last month and although the batsmen only arrived in Dubai early yesterday - the bowlers went out on Saturday - they go straight into match action today against a local UAE XI, their only warm-up ahead of Saturday's tournament opener.