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Ireland face tough battle with teen wizard casting spell

By Ian Callender

It was a "nice smile" which persuaded Afghanistan coach Raees Ahmadzai to give Mujeeb Zadran his one-day international debut on his first call-up to the senior squad.

It proved no laughing matter for Ireland as they were bamboozled by the 16-year-old googly bowler, leaving William Porterfield's side with a huge task if they are to bounce back today in the second game of their three-match series (10.30 GMT).

Ahmadzai saw Mujeeb playing for his province two and a half years ago and, just as he did on Tuesday, he took four wickets on his debut. "Mujeeb was picked for the national side because he took six wickets twice in two matches at the Asia Under-19 Cup and we knew Sharjah was suitable for spinners so we selected him for this trip," said his coach.

"He has good ability and he gave me a nice smile, and that gave me the confidence that he is good enough to play for the national side."

It's always an exciting moment when a teenager makes an instant impression. Ed Joyce made 60 on his Ireland debut aged 18, Eoin Morgan was two years younger when he scored 71 in his second match and George Dockrell announced his arrival with 10 wickets in his first four T20 games as a 17-year-old.

But more recently Ireland have been on the receiving end, with 18-year-old Rashid Khan the dominant force in the last series in March and, unless Ireland prove otherwise today and in the final game on Sunday, they will be only fourth favourites to claim one of the two World Cup finals spots available at the qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe in March.

Ireland will have 10 more games next year before their opening qualifier, but after Tuesday's 138 runs defeat captain Porterfield promised there would be changes in the next two games.

"It's all about preparation for Zimbabwe now and there are a lot of lads who need game time, so no matter what the result of the first match we have Barry McCarthy and Peter Chase on the sidelines who need white ball cricket under their belts, Jacob Mulder as well, and I envisage us jumping across pitches and back to the first one so he will get a run out as well," he said.

"Then it's a question of balancing the team, but we will use the full depth of our squad to have everyone firing when it comes to the middle of March," added Porterfield.

Meanwhile, back home NCU Challenge Cup holders CIYMS were last night drawn at home to newly promoted Armagh in the first round next season in one of two all-Premier League ties.

The other takes place at Stormont between Civil Service North and Carrickfergus, a repeat of last year's game at the same stage which CSN won by seven runs.

There are two all-Section One games including a derby clash at Queensway between Derriaghy and relegated Lisburn but league champions Waringstown got a home draw against Woodvale.

AJG Challenge Cup first round draw: Bangor or Laurelvale v Downpatrick, CIYMS v Armagh, Holywood v Muckamore, Derriaghy v Lisburn, Lurgan or Cregagh v Instonians, Waringstown v Woodvale, Civil Service North v Carrickfergus, North Down v Donacloney Mill

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