Welcome to the second instalment of my ICC Cricket World Cup preview. In this preview I look at Ireland and Afghanistan, the two sides who have dominated outside the test arena for these last four years.
Ireland (Group B)
Fixtures: vs West Indies, Saxton Oval, Nelson, vs UAE, The Gabba, Brisbane, vs South Africa, Manuka Oval, Canberra, vs Zimbabwe, Bellerive Oval, Hobart, vs India, Seddon Park, Hamilton, vs Pakistan, Adelaide Oval, Adelaide.
Squad: William Porterfield (c), Andrew Balbirnie, Peter Chase, Alex Cusack, George Dockrell, Ed Joyce, Andrew McBrine, John Mooney, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien (wk), Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson (wk), Craig Young.
The Irish bring an experienced side to Australia and New Zealand, with a few young players thrown in as well. Many of these players play in County Cricket, and Ed Joyce has been one of the most prolific scorers at that level over the past few years. The experienced opening partnership of William Porterfield and Paul Stirling should ensure that the Irish get off to a great start, and they will be well backed up by the likes of Joyce, Niall O’Brien, Kevin O’Brien and Gary Wilson. The bowling attack may be more of a worry, however, and although Tim Murtagh and Alex Cusack are quite strong it is fairly inexperienced. If first-choice spinner George Dockrell struggles to fire, it will be up to the occasional spin of Stirling to pick up the slack, and that could be an issue.
The side may also struggle to strike the right balance between experience and youth. While the majority of the team are very experienced, with 6 players in for their third tournament, the others have not played many matches. Andrew Balbirnie, Peter Chase, Andrew McBrine, Stuart Thompson and Craig Young are all fairly inexperienced, and there are very few players who fall in between. The abundance of County cricketers is a really good sign, and it is these players who have formed the core of a side whose success amongst the associate nations is incredible. In the end the Irish have the potential to cause a few major upsets, like their remarkable win over the English in the last edition of the tournament. If Ireland play well then a spot in the quarter-finals is a possibility.
Afghanistan (Group A)
Fixtures: vs Bangladesh, Manuka Oval, Canberra, vs Sri Lanka, University Oval, Dunedin, vs Scotland, University Oval, Dunedin, vs Australia, WACA, Perth, vs New Zealand, McLean Park, Napier, vs England, Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney.
Squad: Mohammad Nabi (c), Afsar Zazai (wk), Aftab Alam, Asghar Stanikzai, Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Hamid Hassan, Javed Ahmadi, Mirwais Ashraf, Najibullah Zadran, Nasir Jamal, Nawroz Mangal, Samiullah Shenwari, Shapoor Zadran, Usman Ghani.
Afghanistan are a fairly exciting side coming into their first World Cup, and while consistency has always been a struggle they have a chance to win some matches. At 18, opener Usman Ghani already has an ODI century to his name, and he will form an exciting partnership with Javed Ahmadi, with Nawroz Mangal probably moving down the order to four. Wicketkeeper Afsar Zazai will bat at three, and he has also made runs since replacing Mohammad Shahzad in the side. Asghar Stanikzai is a strong middle-order player, and Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shenwari, Gulbadin Naib and Mirwais Ashraf ensure the tail is as short as possible. Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran and Dawlat Zadran form the base of the attack.
One worry the Afghans have, however, is a lack of continuity in the batting order. The order is very regularly shuffled around, and so a player could bat 5 one game and 8 the next. This does not allow the players to get comfortable in a position for much longer than a couple of games, and if it happens in the World Cup it could lead to absolute pandemonium. The side also lacks a first-choice spinner. While Nabi, Gulbadin and Shenwari all bowl some variety of spin none are quite good enough to fill that mantle. While Afghanistan are probably not consistent enough or good enough to pass the group stage they have the potential to spring a major upset at some stage during the tournament. The side are young and this is a chance to impress on the world stage.
Tomorrow: I look at the first of the Test-playing nations when I preview Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.