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O'Brien striving to find a middle man, but Irish future is bright

 

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Was Ireland's victory over Afghanistan on Tuesday their greatest Twenty20 win? (stock photo)

Was Ireland's victory over Afghanistan on Tuesday their greatest Twenty20 win? (stock photo)

Was Ireland's victory over Afghanistan on Tuesday their greatest Twenty20 win? (stock photo)

Was Ireland's victory over Afghanistan on Tuesday their greatest Twenty20 win?

Coming eight weeks after beating the West Indies, the current world champions, in their own backyard, it may seem a daft question, but in conditions so foreign to Ireland and so favourable to Afghanistan and their world-class spin bowlers, to win in India at the 10th time of asking was surely the greater achievement.

It may have needed a Super Over before they could celebrate, but it finally proved that Ireland have players who, on a going day, can bowl at the death. And that has been their failing ever since they were mauled by Netherlands at the World T20 in 2014.

In Paul Stirling, Kevin O'Brien, Andrew Balbirnie, Gareth Delany and now Harry Tector, top scorer in the three-match series against Afghanistan, they have a top five who can score fast runs and also clear the boundary. That was known before this trip.

But now they have Craig Young who, after an impressive 19th over in the match, was entrusted with the Super Over - and conceded only eight runs - and Josh Little, whose last over won the match against the West Indies in Grenada, plus Barry McCarthy, who came off his sick bed to replace strike bowler Boyd Rankin and concede just 21 runs against the Afghans.

The spin bowlers also played their part, with Simi Singh and Delany putting their hands up to take over from George Dockrell.

Seven months out from the T20 World Cup in Australia, it looks as if Ireland could have a squad which can be competitive on the world stage.

The weak link in the team at the moment is the lack of big-hitting in the middle order, as O'Brien acknowledged after Tuesday's victory, his 131st T20 international.

"That's going to be a big thing, especially for me as a senior player, to give the younger guys some knowledge and try to help them step up and really contribute to putting Ireland into big winning positions or chasing scores when batting second," he said.

Ireland's next T20 action is scheduled to be three games in Zimbabwe in three weeks' time, and the squad, which will be selected on Friday, will travel with confidence.

Belfast Telegraph