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Ireland start as they mean to go on but room for improvement as World Cup groundwork begins

Phil Simmons’ side are in Dubai for an ODI tri-series.

George Dockrell took four wickets in Dubai.
George Dockrell took four wickets in Dubai.
Image: Surjeet/INPHO

IRELAND BEGAN AN intensive five week period of World Cup preparation with a narrow three-wicket win over Afghanistan in their opening fixture of the Dubai Triangular series.

It was, for all intents and purposes, exactly what the doctor ordered as Ireland’s opening Pool B game against West Indies edges ever closer.

The stuttering win, largely underpinned by a typically disciplined bowling performance, doesn’t tell us a whole lot about Phil Simmons’ side that we didn’t already know but it was a result that has set the wheels in motion ahead of a seminal few months.

Four wickets from George Dockrell – including his 50th in ODI cricket – helped bowl Afghanistan out for just 180 after William Porterfield won the toss and elected to field first at the Dubai International Cricket stadium.

The conditions, which were conducive to spin on a relatively slow surface, aren’t exactly what either side will encounter in Australia/New Zealand but it was a timely shot in the arm for Dockrell who endured a frustrating 2014 at county level with Somerset.

While the performance of the bowlers, including Craig Young, was encouraging, the display with the bat was far from it.

A litany of injuries during the pre-Christmas acclimatisation tours meant game time has been limited for many following the conclusion of the 2014 season and it showed.

Now, however, is the time to dust off the cobwebs – it is essentially what these games are in the schedule for.

Bangladesh ICC Cricket T20 WCup Ed Joyce once again showed his class with a half-century Source: AP/Press Association Images

Paul Stirling, Porterfield and Gary Wilson all failed to reach double figures as Ireland slumped to 29-3 in pursuit of Afghanistan’s under-par total.

Even at 36, Ed Joyce remains the class act and having scored nine first class centuries for Sussex last season is arguably in the best form of his career. A ninth ODI half-century settled Ireland as he and Niall, and then Kevin O’Brien, steadily accumulated to take the sting out of Afghanistan’s early onslaught.

But, Javed Ahmadi struck three times in quick succession as Ireland endured another wobble. A soft underbelly has undermined Ireland’s toil on occasions before and the form of the middle order will be crucial if Phil Simmons’ side are to harbour any realistic hopes of reaching the Super 8 stage.

A trial-by-spin is never the easiest assignment and Ireland will be thankful conditions Down Under aren’t as favourable for the slower bowlers. All but one the seven Irish wickets that fell on Saturday were victims of spin – it is certainly something to work on over the coming weeks.

Because, this is a World Cup expected to be a run-fest. It’s likely Simmons will supplement the batting by deploying an additional specialist batsmen in the middle-lower order and should that be the case, Andrew Balbirnie is doing his case for inclusion no harm.

The Middlesex batsmen was the stand-out performer during latter half of 2014 and continued his rich vein of form with an assured 31 off 50 balls. He and the returning Alex Cusack combined to put on an unbeaten stand of 52 for the 8th wicket to get Ireland over the line, albeit in an unconvincing fashion – perhaps on all fours.

Next-up for Ireland is a meeting with Scotland at the same venue on Monday.

At Dubai International Cricket Stadium 

Afghanistan 180 all out (44.2 overs, Javed Ahmadi 81, Najibullah Zadran 45, George Dockrell 4-35, John Mooney 2-36)

Ireland 181/7 (43.2 overs, Ed Joyce 51, Andrew Balbirnie 31*, Kevin O’Brien 30, Niall O’Brien 22, Javed Ahmadi 4-37, Mohammed Nabi 2-39)

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Ryan Bailey

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