Ireland has been the best of the non-test playing nations for a decade now and has surprised many a country on their day in the ICC world tournaments. Their famous victories against Pakistan in 2007 and England in 2011 in world cups are few of them. The big question for Ireland in the T20 world cup will be: Whether they will be able to cope with slow and low surfaces in Bangladesh? The first task for the Irish will to be top the Group B of the qualifying stage. They will have to defeat Zimbabwe, Netherlands and UAE.
Ireland does have players of individual brilliance who can turn the game on its head and in a shortened version the unpredictability of cricket is enhanced. This was amply demonstrated on their recent tour of Caribbean where they defeated the World T20 titleholders West Indies.
Irish batting will depend on the good start it generally gets from the skipper Poterfield and the aggressive Paul Stirling. Ed Joyce who is back in the Irish set up after briefly flirting with the English team will provide the experience and grit at number three. He will be followed by the O`Brien brothers.
Ireland to manage to get into main group of world T20 requires Kevin O`Brien to fire all cylinders. His form will be crucial for the Irish chances. If he performs anywhere close to what he did to England in the World Cup in 2011 you can be sure that Ireland will be in the main group. Unfortunately for Ireland, James Mooney who has been a seasoned campaigner will be missing out because of stress related illness. However his loss will provide other new entrants a great chance to prove what they are made of. One only wonders where the Irish cricket would have been if the likes of Eoin Morgan was still playing for them.
On the bowling side,with the likes of Boyd Rankin now representing England, Irish will depend a lot of Tim Murtagh, who has a lot of county cricket experience. The chief weapon for Ireland will be the young left arm spinner, George Dockrell. He will be expected to take crucial wickets and at the same time restrict teams from scoring freely. Alex Cussack is also expected to make crucial contribution with his bowling and his experience. The experienced Trent Johnston who has recently retired will be sorely missed. More than his bowling it was his attitude in the field, which the Irish will miss.
Ireland will probably struggle to get into the main round of T20 championship, but in a T20 cricket match, sometimes an individual performance can change the course ofgame. Ireland has a couple of players who can turn the games on their head by some individual brilliance. It also depends on how well Zimbabwe with all their recent troubles performs in the tournament. It will also be a great chance for the Irish to show once again that they are ready to mingle with the big boys.
Ireland Squad: William Porterfield (captain), Alex Cusack, George Dockrell, Ed Joyce, Andy McBrine, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien, Andrew Poynter, James Shannon, Max Sorensen, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson, Craig Young
Sportzcosmos prediction: Ireland will qualify for the main event.
If somebody told me ten years ago that Afghanistan will be competing with the big boys in cricket, I would have laughed off. But seeing the giant strides Afghanistan has made in cricket, it makes me wonder what if everything was fine in the war torn country, the Afghans could have been well on the way to become a strong cricketing nation. Most of the Afghans have learnt their trade in the game by playing in Pakistan.
The lack of recognition followed by tough life away from home made them even more determined to perform well in front of the world audience. The speed with which they climbed through the ICC rankings and achieved ODI status not only suggests how good they are but it also suggests that is significant talent that is coming through. The days are not far away when Afghanistan would be challenging most of the big teams.
Afghanistan will be playing the qualifying round in Group A. To enter the main round they will have to top the Group B and to achieve their main hurdle would be to defeat Bangladesh in their home conditions. Their fate could be very well decided on the first game they play on the 16 of March.
Afghanistan has lot of flamboyant batsman who are ready to go after the leather from ball one. In the shape of Mohammad Shahzad they have their own version of ShahidAfridi. He just plays the ball as he sees and not on the reputation of the bowler who bowls it. The main anchorman for the team will be AsgharStanikzai, who played a crucial innings against Bangladesh, a fortnight ago in their famous first win against a test playing nation. Mohammed Nabi, the skipper will play the crucial role of stabilizing middle order and he is more than capable of clearing the boundary at will. NawrozMangal and SamiullahShenwari form the crucial experienced duo who have won a lot of games for the Afghans in the recent past and will be hoping to perform at optimum. Shenwari who displayed very good batting form in the recently concluded Asia cup wouldbe crucial in adding the important runs in the lower middle order.
The strong suit of Afghans is their bowling. InShapoorzardan and DawlatZardan they have two young quickies who have a big heart and good pace. Hamid Hassan has been their go to man in the last five years although his fitness has been under cloud in the recently concluded Asia cup. Mangal, Shenwari and Nabi form the triad of spinners who can bowl effectively on the slow surfaces in Bangladesh.
With a tough task of defeating Bangladesh in their first game looming big, Afghanistan cannot be underestimated. They might surprise one and all as they did in the Asia cup when they defeated Bangladesh. If Afghanistan does manage to qualify for the main event, one can be sure no matter what entertainment galore is guaranteed.
Afghanistan Squad: Mohammad Nabi (captain), AsgharStanikzai, DawlatZadran, GulbadinNaib, Hamid Hassan, HamzaHotak, KarimSadiq, Mirwais Ashraf, NajibullahTaraki, NajibullahZadran, NawrozMangal, SamiullahShenwari, Mohammad Shahzad, Shafiqullah, ShapoorZadran
Sportzcosmos prediction: Afghanistan will not qualify for the main event
– Asvin Lakkaraju [Asvin plays for the Swiss National Team . and is a sports analyst for the Cricket Galaxy at Sportz Cosmos. Join him on twitter here.]