Match Preview – Afghanistan vs Ireland, Afghanistan vs Ireland 2023/24, Only Test

Big picture – A rare Test for Afghanistan and Ireland

Six-and-a-half years ago, these two sides were awarded Full Member status, but aside from the financial perks that brings, that promotion for Ireland and Afghanistan has seemed little more than theoretical. Neither side is part of the World Test Championship; none of them have even played a three-match Test series. The two have combined for 15 Tests, nearly all of them stand-alone, one-off games tacked on like afterthoughts to a white-ball series.

The Test these two play in Abu Dhabi this week is no different, one five-day game followed by three ODIs and three T20Is. Afghanistan are coming off a Test in Colombo that Sri Lanka won at a canter, but at least that means they have some red-ball experience they can leverage. Much of the squad is similar to the one they picked for that game, and while Rashid Khan moves closer to a return, Afghanistan remain without him for now.
Ireland, meanwhile, last played a Test in the summer of 2023, though they did play four Tests that year, a number Afghanistan would have to go back to 2021 to equal. Unlike the three Tests Afghanistan have won, though, Ireland are yet to break their duck, finishing second best in all seven. That is mitigated by the relatively tougher opposition they have played, and the one match these sides played against each other before was also officially a “home” Test for Afghanistan, played in Dehradun. Afghanistan would ease to a seven-wicket win.

Afghanistan LLWLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)

In the spotlight – Gurbaz and Tucker

Wicketkeeper Rahmanullah Gurbaz is one of Afghanistan’s brightest stars for his prowess with the bat and behind the stumps in the white-ball game, but is yet to make his Test debut. That looks almost certain to change with his inclusion to this squad. While data on his red-ball style of play is difficult to reliably source, the 12 first-class games he’s played have seen him average almost 50 with a strike rate over 72. There is little reason why his obvious talent should not translate to the longest format, and if he hits his stride, it will be as watchable as it is effective.
Vice-captain Lorcan Tucker is one of Ireland’s nailed-on starters, though much of the past three months have seen him warm substitute benches in South Africa and Pakistan. He was with the Paarl Royals in the SA20, but wouldn’t end up getting a game, and played as wicketkeeper for Lahore Qalandars in their opening fixture before being benched for the next two. But Ireland require him to hit the ground running in Abu Dhabi, and relied on him for his contributions in the middle order in all four Tests in 2023. He was their leading Test run-scorer for the year, his 351 runs coming at 43.87, an average none of his countrymen matched.

Afghanistan’s biggest challenge concerns papering over Rashid’s absence. Left-arm wristspinner Zahir Khan is back in the squad after missing out against Sri Lanka, and uncapped legspinner Khalil Gurbaz has also been drafted in.

Afghanistan: 1 Ibrahim Zadran 2 Noor Ali Zadran 3 Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk) 4 Rahmat Shah 5 Hashmatullah Shahidi (capt) 6 Ikram Alikhil 7 Nasir Jamal 8 Zia ur Rehman 9 Nijat Masood 10 Naveed Zadram 11 Zahir Khan

Left-arm spinner Theo van Woerkom, who switched allegiances from New Zealand to Ireland and made his white-ball debut last year, looks set to play his first Test in a line-up that otherwise looks similar to Ireland’s recent Test starting XIs.

Ireland: 1 James McCollom 2 Peter Moor 3 Andrew Balbirnie (capt) 4 Harry Tector 5 Paul Stirling 6 Curtis Campher 7 Lorcan Tucker (wk) 8 Mark Adair 9 Andy McBrine 10 Theo van Woerkom 11 Craig Young

There was a late change of venue for this Test match. Originally scheduled for the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, the game will now be played at the Tolerance Oval adjacent to the bigger ground. A press release later confirmed that the change was because the Sheikh Zayed Stadium will instead be hosting the Abu Dhabi Schools Sports Championship, between March 1 and 3.

Ireland, who selected their initial squad on the assumption the Sheikh Zayed Stadium doesn’t take too much red-ball turn, only learned of the change after arriving in the UAE. With this being the first Test at the Oval, conditions are a bit of a mystery, though weather is not expected to play spoilsport.

  • The Tolerance Oval will be the 122nd venue to host Test match cricket.
  • Afghanistan’s dependence on Rashid reflects in the wickets charts. The legspinner has taken 34 in five matches, 16 clear of his closest compatriot, Amir Hamza, who has 18.
  • Should Ireland register a win in either of their next three Tests, they will pip Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and New Zealand in the number of matches taken to register their first Test win
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