Ireland need a few more big guns to shoot down top teams, admits Ford
Ireland coach Graham Ford has accepted there are limitations in certain areas of his squad and a greater strength in depth is required if they are to compete at the highest level.
Ford refused to go public with criticism of any individual players following the 6-2 series defeat by Afghanistan across the three formats on their month-long tour in India but admitted "we were relying on a smaller group of leading players, they had a few more match winners".
In their 'home' conditions, Afghanistan were always favourites to claim their first Test match victory, they remain dominant in the Twenty20 format and Ireland's only successes came in the one-day internationals.
"It was a tough tour, as we always knew it would be," said Ford. "But some players put in some very fine performances and made progress with their game, especially playing against their quality spinners. So it was good to see young (James) McCollum adjust and show he was good enough to handle it. But at the end of the day they had one or two more big guns than we had."
And it is that strength in depth which is the huge difference between the two newest Full Members. Afghanistan used 30 players in the nine matches - one was abandoned - while Ireland, despite having 20 players across the three formats, used only 13 in the five ODIs, and 10 of those played in the Test match.
Despite defeats in both the second and fourth ODIs, Ireland refused to change their line-up, and while, to their credit, the same team bounced back with series-levelling victories in the third and fifth games, it all but confirmed the unused players would not have improved the team.
"We are reliant on a small group of players and if they have a good day out we're competitive, if they don't fire we are off the game slightly, so it's about trying to bring on other players so that they can become match-winners rather than support players," said the Ireland head coach.
Andrew Balbirnie, Paul Stirling and improved batsman George Dockrell, three of Ireland's most established players, were the key to the two victories with a combined aggregate of 357 runs and it wasn't coincidence that in the two games Ireland lost, that trio scored 147.
Test and ODI captain William Porterfield had a tour to forget with the bat, scoring just 42 runs in four innings, exactly the same total as Simi Singh at No.4 - preferred in the last four ODIs to James McCollum because it gave Porterfield the extra spin bowler.
Kevin O'Brien's runs increased innings by innings but only to 33 not out to see Ireland home in the final game, while Stuart Poynter, rightly preferred behind the stumps to Lorcan Tucker, averaged only five with the bat.
And, according to Ford, the 30 players rotated by Afghanistan are not even the best 30 in the country. "Speaking to their coaches and Andy Moles, who looks after the Under-19s, there are more guys better than some of these guys. Their challenge is completely opposite to us, the depth is amazing."
The biggest positive in the white-ball action was the promotion of O'Brien to opener in the T20s. In six innings, at the Oman quadrangular tournament and three games against Afghanistan, O'Brien had two half-centuries and only one single figure score, and two century partnerships with Stirling.
"When we spoke to Kevin about going up the order he embraced the challenge. It gives him more motivation at this stage of his career," said Ford.
But while it gives the team early momentum, "the downside is we don't have that impact player down the order, so that's our next challenge, to create someone who can do that job".
Outside the two T20 inter-provincial festivals this summer, the next representative action in the shortest format is the newly named Euro T20 Slam, involving franchises from Ireland, Scotland and Netherlands, from August 30 to September 22.
Yet, the one global tournament for Ireland this year is the qualifiers for the T20 World Cup, in Dubai in October, and the coach admitted: "We need to try and work with a few guys who can be destructive at the end of the innings.
"(Shane) Getkate showed some good signs and Tucker is a handy T20 player who didn't get opportunities to show what he can do, but he has worked hard on his game and I'm sure he will benefit from that."
The biggest disappointment for Ford is the long wait for Test matches and the expectation the players can adjust from white-ball to red-ball action.
"We had guys playing in this Test who hadn't played a four-day game," he said. "And after eight white-ball games it was straight into a Test match, our first for 10 months. Now it's back to white-ball cricket and then we have a Test match against England at Lords (in July, without a warm-up match).
"All we have is three-day cricket back home so it's tough to go straight into a Test match with everyone so early in their Test careers."