Irish gear up for bid to bag a first Test success in Afghanistan
Ten months after their first Test match in Malahide, the Ireland squad chalk up another milestone tomorrow when they play their first overseas Test, against Afghanistan in their new home here in north east India.
Ireland go into the match as big underdogs, facing a world class slow bowling attack in spin-friendly conditions, but captain William Porterfield wouldn't have it any other way and has told his team-mates to embrace the challenge.
"Home advantage should be important, that is what cricket is all about. You want to play in different conditions and test yourself," said Porterfield, ahead of his 288th game for Ireland.
"It would be pretty boring if every pitch was the same everywhere you go and that is part of the learning experience. It is a test, it is the Test, playing in foreign conditions and the lads have to take that on as an exciting challenge. Whether you are starting off or fortunate to play a few Tests at the back end of your career it is still exciting."
This will be only the second multi-day game in India for six of the team and a first for the others who make up the starting XI.
Afghanistan won the Intercontinental Cup in Greater Noida two years ago inside three days and by an innings after amassing 537-8.
This time, Porterfield will be hoping to get first use of the Dehradun pitch - "a slightly different surface" - and although Ed Joyce, Niall O'Brien, Gary Wilson and John Anderson are all missing, the captain, as ever, remains positive.
"We have more options and variations with the ball this time and, while that experience with the bat is not there, what we have gained over the last five matches will stand us in some sort of stead for the Test match," he said.
Ominously, the pitch is the same as the teams played the first T20s of the tour on and the fourth ODI, when Ireland were bowled out for 114, and Porterfield was waiting to see how much grass is left before finalising the starting line-up.
In Ireland's debut Test, Paul Stirling batted No.5 - he is a regular in the middle order for Middlesex in the county championship - but the captain was still insisting last night that he remains an option to open.
"I will be having a chat with him and Fordy (coach Graham Ford), but come Thursday we'll know what way we're going to go and give any lads who need to know they are playing a good heads up," said Porterfield.
"We'll work out how many of each bowling option we need, you have Stuart Thompson as an all-rounder and the two seamers (Boyd Rankin and Tim Murtagh) up top, Barry McCarthy if needed and the number of spin options which will play a part in the game.
"Depending on how we think the pitch will play the first couple of days will decide if we go for the extra batter or we go with the extra bowling option. They're the decisions we have to take."
The extra batter will be James McCollum, the 23-year-old Waringstown player who was called up to the senior side after starring for the Ireland Wolves in Sri Lanka last month and is favourite to either open with Porterfield or come in at number four.
There will be at least four Test debutants - five if Thompson's bowling is not required. Unfortunately for the Eglinton all-rounder he didn't get a look-in in the ODIs and, although he scored a 50 and took four wickets at Malahide, these will be much tougher conditions for pace bowlers, and Kevin O'Brien can perform the third seamer role if required.
George Dockrell and Andy McBrine, who both missed the Malahide Test, along with James Cameron-Dow is the expected spin trio, with Simi Singh expected to miss out in favour of the extra batsman.
Afghanistan lost their first Test in Bangalore inside two days against the might of India but, although the country is the same, this is an historic first 'home' Test and, according to captain Asghar Afghan, "a moment of pride for Afghanistan and it carries a lot of meaning for us".
History is certain to be made by the winners because only Australia and England have won one of their first two Tests, in the first series of all back in 1877.
Afghanistan (from): Asghar Afghan (capt), Mohammad Shahzad, Ihsanullah Janat, Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Nasir Jamal, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Ikram Ali Khil, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Wafadar Momand, Yamin Ahmadzai, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Waqar Salamkheil, Zahir Khan, Sayed Shirzad.
Ireland (probable): W Porterfield (capt), J McCollum, A Balbirnie, P Stirling, K O'Brien, G Dockrell, S Poynter, A McBrine, J Cameron-Dow, B Rankin, T Murtagh.