ICC Intercontinental Cup preview: Ireland v Afghanistan


On the face of it, Ireland and Afghanistan don't have too much in common. But for all the cultural, religious and economic diversities, their cricketing histories are remarkably comparable.

Naturally, the differences between two countries separated by nearly four thousand miles and situated either side of two vastly contrasting continents are wide-ranging. On the face of it, Ireland and Afghanistan don't have too much in common; one has a population of over 31 million while the other's landmass is almost eight times inferior.

But for all the cultural, religious and economic diversities, their cricketing histories are remarkably comparable – British landlords and troops first introduced the game to both in the 1830s – and although their respective development into the outstanding forces of the associate nation ranks may not have run parallel, their paths have since crossed to establish a contemporary on-field rivalry.

And when they lock horns in this week's Intercontinental Cup final in Dubai – the second meeting between the countries in ten days – their recently developed duel will be intensely reignited as the busy associate nation year reaches its climax.

For Ireland, the prospect of becoming the first side to be in possession of all three associate trophies acts as one of several compelling subplots to the primary motive of reaffirming their supremacy over their non-Test playing counterparts.

While, Afghanistan will be determined to avenge their hefty defeat in the finale of the World Twenty20 Qualifierg tournament, Mohammed Nabi's side will be equally driven by the chance to defend the trophy they lifted in 2010.

Ireland's position at the summit of the associate rankings has rarely been probed in recent years as regular but often tame challengers, Scotland and Netherlands, are both enduring fluctuating fortunes. But Afghanistan's meteoric rise and vastly contrasting subcontinent blueprint has increased the competition further, forcing Ireland to raise their game.

So far, Phil Simmons' side have withstood the Afghan challenge – as the Asian nation have become the sole pretender to Ireland's associate crown – with flawless fortitude but they will see the five-day final as an opportunity to accentuate the fact that this is not a phony war, but one that could potentially lead to a power shift.

For now though, Afghanistan must play understudies to their superior opponents as they fulfill the role of aspirants to the emerald throne. It's been an outstanding twelve months for Ireland, in every sense of the word. The addition of the I-Cup to a bulging trophy cabinet, which already contains the World Cricket League and World T20 qualifying trophies, would be a true reflection of their complete dominance.

The rare feat of a treble – three sporting victories or championships in the same season or year – is largely associated with football. The opportunity to lift three pieces of silverware in cricket is generally beyond the realms of possibility. But, the ICC's schedule for 2013 has meant that all three associate and affiliate competitions have come down for decision during a congested itinerary as Ireland seek to complete a famous clean sweep.

After starting their respective campaigns nearly thirty months ago, it's been a protracted journey to the final for both Ireland and Afghanistan. Neither have been troubled on their route to Dubai and while Phil Simmons' side are favourites to make history, their Asian opposition will be determined to spoil the party and add a second ICC trophy to their collection.

<b>Key Men</b><br>Ireland will be boosted by the return of <b>Ed Joyce</b> after the classy left-hander missed last month's Twenty20 Qualifiers through paternity leave. The Sussex captain oozes quality when he's at the crease and with conditions likely to suit the spinners, Joyce will need all his experience and guile to blunt the Afghan attack.

With his side's' strength lying in their bowling, there will be great weight on the shoulders of captain <b>Mohammad Nabi</b> to occupy the crease and lead from the front against a potent Irish bowling attack. The all-rounder not only adds steel and depth to the batting order but his off-spin is an effective weapon, picking up 17 wickets in the competition to date.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2013: WT20 Qualifer final: Ireland won by 68 runs in Abu Dhabi<br>2012: Intercontinental Cup: Match drawn in Dublin<br>2012: ODI: Ireland won by 59 runs in Dublin<br>2012: ODI: Match Abandoned in Dublin<br>2012: WT20 Qualifier final: Ireland won by five wickets in Dubai

<b>Prediction</b><br>While conditions at the ICC Global Academy will no doubt suit Afghanistan's subcontinent blueprint, last week's hefty defeat to the same opposition will be weighing heavily on their minds ahead of the year-ending climax. Two defeats in 2010 apart, Ireland have enjoyed supremacy over the Afghans in all formats and will be confident of claiming a historic treble. With only a draw needed to lift the trophy, it's hard to bet against Phil Simmons' charges.

<b>Probable Teams</b><br><b>Ireland:</b> William Porterfield, Paul Stirling, Ed Joyce, Niall O'Brien, Andrew White, Kevin O'Brien, Gary Wilson, Trent Johnston, Max Sorensen, Tim Murtagh, George Dockrell.

The Intercontinental Cup's leading run-scorer Andrew White returns to the 14-man panel for the final after being omitted for the limited-overs campaign and should slot into a powerful Irish batting order. Niall O'Brien, after being dropped for the last few games of the Twenty20 Qualifiers, is also expected to return while Max Sorensen will spearhead a four-man attack which includes the retiring Trent Johnston.

<b>Afghanistan:</b> Shabir Noori, Nawroz Mangal, Mirwais Ashraf, Asghar Stanikzai, Rahmat Shah, Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Shahzad, Mohammad Nabi, Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Izatullah Dawlatzai.

Mohammad Nabi will once again skipper a side which contains ten members of the one that defeated Scotland in the final three years ago but they are without two of their star bowlers. There is no place in the squad for left-armer Shapoor Zadran after a couple of poor performances while Hamid Hassan misses out through injury. The fast-bowler, who has taken 55 I-Cup wickets in just eight matches, has failed to recover from a knee complaint.

<b>Dates:</b> 10 to 15 December<br><b>Morning session:</b> 10:00-12:00 (06:00-08:00 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 12:40-14:40 (08:40-10:40 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 15:00-17:00 (11:00-13:00 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Sarika Prasad and Tim Robinson<br><b>Third umpire:</b> Buddhi Pradan<br><b>Match referee:</b> Graeme LaBrooy

<b>Ryan Bailey</b>