Afghanistan v Ireland: 'Let's go and get our first Test win' – Balbirnie


Andrew Balbirnie’s highest international score is an unbeaten 205 against the Netherlands in 2017
International Test match – Afghanistan v Ireland
Venue: Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Dehradun, India Dates: 15-19 March
Coverage: Live scorecard and reports on the BBC Sport website; updates on BBC Radio Ulster

A brilliant unbeaten knock of 145 does wonders for the psyche and a repeat would do nicely for Andrew Balbirnie as Ireland enter the Test arena for just the second time on Friday.

It’s also an overseas five-day debut for the ‘Boys in Green’ with Afghanistan their opponents in the first Test to be staged at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in the north Indian city of Dehradun.

So prized for so long, Ireland finally secured a place at the top table of world cricket when they made their Test bow against Pakistan in Malahide last May.

Balbirnie got a first taste of the game’s longest format in the five-wicket defeat and the 28-year-old Dubliner is eager for more.

The stylish number three warmed up for the Test with a scintillating exhibition of stroke-play and power as his 145 took Ireland to an ODI victory over the Afghans last week.

Balbirnie’s eight sixes set a new Irish record and his best one-day total was also the third highest ODI score in the team’s history.

“It was obviously very special – more so that it was a winning innings,” he said.

Andrew Balbirnie was the only Irish player to score a century in the ODI series against Afghanistan

“I’m desperate to consistently contribute to wins for Ireland and naturally I know it won’t happen every game, but if I stick to my strengths and work hard I hope it can happen more often.

“The key was just sticking to a plan which is easy to say but against these guys sometimes it’s tough to execute your plans so having a clear head certainly helped.

“It’s very special to play Test cricket, it’s the game you grew up watching on TV, the home England Tests with Richie Benaud calling the game. I’d sit there all day as a kid watching these games and hoping it would be me one day.

“Representing Ireland in any format is a dream come true so to be able to be one of the first to do it in Test cricket is obviously an even better feeling.”

Balbirnie was released from his contract with Middlesex in 2015 when a hip injury made him unavailable for selection the following year.

Top man

Now playing for inter-provincial side Leinster Lightning, he made his international debut in 2010 and has become a mainstay of the Irish top order.

Balbirnie continued his fine form on Sunday with a valuable 68 as Ireland beat Afghanistan in the fifth and final ODI to tie the series 2-2 in Dehradun.

Paul Stirling top-scored with 70 and the big-hitting opener also struck 89 in the first game, while George Dockrell (54) was the only other Irish batsman to make a half-century in the series.

Afghanistan had already won the T20 series 3-0 and conquering a dangerous spin attack on a subcontinent pitch has proved difficult for the Irish.

Rashid Khan and Mohammed Nabi are set to spearhead the Afghan spin attack in the Test against Ireland

“There’s no doubt their main bowling threats are the spin trio of Rashid, Mujeeb and Nabi – these are guys play around the world in franchise cricket and do very well,” added Balbirnie.

“A lot of Afghanistan’s success of late has been down to these guys, they are high quality bowlers and I suppose their biggest threat is that they don’t give you many bad balls, therefore forcing you into trying something different.

“Naturally it’s not something we are brought up with at home, pitches like this that spin from the off so we are always learning when coming to places like this.

In a spin

“We were fortunate as batters to spend 10 days in Bangalore before Christmas working on our game against mainly spin.

“I’m not sure anyone has mastered playing spin but the work is always put in to get as close to it as possible.”

Ireland’s tour to Asia began in Oman early last month and included a four-nation T20 tournament before the move to India and nine games against Afghanistan.

That’s plenty of time to get bored and homesick but the solution for Balbirnie is to have “some good friends around you” while there is always a master of banter to enliven affairs.

“Tim Murtagh takes that mantle, even being the oldest member of the party he is also the guy who is always first with the jokes, and any moment for a bit of humour in the WhatsApp group he doesn’t hesitate.

Joker in the pack – tour funnyman Tim Murtagh celebrates taking a wicket in the Test against Pakistan

“We have had a couple of fines meetings which always produces some funny moments, quizzes have been held on a regular basis with the poor quizmasters under scrutiny and often abused throughout, but again making a few evenings very enjoyable.”

The focus is now on the tour finale on Friday with the Afghans also going into their second Test after losing to India in their opener last summer.

Balbirnie expects a wicket that will “turn very early” but it’s a buoyant Irish camp and Balbirnie is gunning for an historic success.

He said: “The mood has been good throughout, its a great group of guys we have here, and a lot of us have played underage cricket together growing up.

“Of course there’s belief we can win, if there wasn’t I’d be very worried. We know what’s required to combat Afghanistan and that’s no different when it comes to the Test match.

“I think it’s a case of we’ve played Test cricket and that’s great – now let’s go and get our first Test win.”

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