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Ireland hope to take world by storm in the long run

By Ian Callender

Storm Doris delayed the Ireland squad's departure yesterday morning for a five-week tour of the UAE and India which will see them play seven one-day internationals, three Twenty20 internationals and an Intercontinental Cup (four-day) game.

It is the longest trip outside a global event which an Irish cricket team has ever undertaken and should be the start of a new era when Ireland are accepted as peers among the elite of the world game.

They leave with the words of the Cricket Ireland chief executive, Warren Deutrom, ringing in their ears - "I don't see any reason why we can't be playing Test cricket in 2018".

That is two years earlier than Deutrom's 2020 vision of 2012 and up to 12 months quicker than England's 2015 promise of a Lord's Test for the winners of a four-match challenge against Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's opponents were due to be the winners of the Intercontinental Cup, which finishes in October, but that 'challenge' has been superseded by the positive noises from the last ICC board meeting when Ireland and Afghanistan were "in principle" to be fast-tracked to Test status, hence Deutrom's positivity in an interview this week.

"There are no plans to play Tests in 2017 but we are looking towards 2018," he said. "I don't see any reason why that can't happen. I'd be surprised if we didn't."

It will still not stop the leading two Associates from demanding the bragging rights next month when they play nine matches across all three formats in Afghanistan's new 'home', Greater Noida, on the outskirts of Delhi.

And for Ireland captain William Porterfield, it is a challenge of a different kind.

"It's our first actual tour, playing the same team, outside a competition where you have to peak at the right time," he said. "So we will come up against different challenges throughout the nine games and that's where we want to be. We are looking forward to taking that challenge on. It's going to be exciting."

In all, 19 Ireland players will be involved and 15 of them left yesterday for a training camp in Dubai, including Andrew Balbirnie, who was grateful for the delay as he needed a new passport.

Boyd Rankin, who will not play in the two games against UAE next week, will arrive three days later along with Greg Thompson, Lorcan Tucker and Peter Chase, who have been selected for only the three T20 games which start the Indian leg of the tour on March 8.

Jacob Mulder, the leading wicket-taker in the Desert T20 last month when Ireland lost to Afghanistan in the final of the eight-team tournament, is named in all three squads and the 20-year old leg spinner can expect to play a leading role.

"The UAE was Jacob's first tour - he had played only one game at the back end of last summer, the T20 against Hong Kong," added Porterfield. "But both he and Josh Little, who's only 17, acquitted themselves well and finding young cricketers to move forward with is always a big positive."

The biggest positive was the team getting that winning feeling back although, significantly, they lost both games to Afghanistan so still have plenty to prove.

Niall O'Brien will sit out the three T20s and after giving up his county contract with Leicestershire has confirmed he will play his club cricket for Nantwich in the Cheshire Premier League.

Fixtures: March 2, 4 v UAE (ODIs); March 8, 10, 12 v Afghanistan (T20s), March 15, 17, 19, 22, 24 v Afghanistan (ODIs), March 28-31 v Afghanistan (ICup).

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