Cricket: Red-hot Stirling ready to boost World Cup hopes
PAUL STIRLING will get the chance to show this country why he is being hailed as one of the hardest hitters in world cricket when Ireland take on Afghanistan at Clontarf today in the first of two 2015 World Cup qualifiers.
The 21-year-old Belfast boy has been wowing English crowds with stellar performances for Middlesex, and the visitors know all about his destructive power after Stirling smashed 79 from 38 balls against them to win the final of the World T20 qualifiers in March.
That innings in Dubai had Ireland coach Phil Simmons comparing him with West Indian superstar Chris Gayle, while his Middlesex boss Angus Fraser went one better last month by mentioning Stirling in the same breath as the legendary 'Masterblaster' Viv Richards.
"Dubai was a personal highlight for me," Stirling said. "My knocks against Namibia and Afghanistan on finals day were right up there with the best I've played for Ireland, and it was great to make them at such a crucial stage of the tournament.
"I've been in good touch with Middlesex and I'm hoping I'll be able to carry it on against Afghanistan this week. We're all aware of the importance of these two matches, and the motivation of appearing in another World Cup will drive us on."
Coach Simmons, meanwhile, is expecting a tough battle, despite Afghanistan having won only three of their opening six games in the 50-overs World League qualifiers. Ireland, who top the table, have lost only one of six.
"There's no doubt that Afghanistan have emerged as our most difficult challengers over the past two or three years," Simmons said. "We've had some intriguing tussles with them in that time and it's fair to say it's probably been pretty even in terms of results."
With Boyd Rankin still recovering from a stress fracture of the foot, Middlesex fast bowler Tim Murtagh may finally get on the field for Ireland after making a non-playing debut in the rained-off ODI against Australia in Belfast.
Spectators can pay at the gate at Clontarf, with the second of the two qualifiers to be played at the same venue on Thursday.
IRELAND (from): W Porterfield (capt, Warwickshire), A Cusack (Clontarf), G Dockrell (Somerset), T Johnston (YMCA), E Joyce (Sussex), J Mooney (North County), T Murtagh (Middlesex), K O'Brien (North County), N O'Brien (Northants), P Stirling (Middlesex), M Sorensen (The Hills), S Thompson (Limavady), A White (Instonians), G Wilson (Surrey).