Simmons delight as Stormont dates set for Pakistan
IRELAND fans get an early chance to see their heroes in action for the first time since the World Cup with the announcement yesterday of two one-day internationals against Pakistan at Stormont in Belfast on May 27 and 29.
The RSA Series -- first revealed in the Irish Independent on Tuesday -- will pitch Ireland against the star-studded team they famously beat at the 2007 World Cup. If Ireland can field a full-strength side, including newly-qualified former New Zealand batsman Hamish Marshall, it should be a keenly-contested series between teams ranked 10th and sixth in the world.
However, the dates cut across two rounds of county championship matches, and Ireland coach Phil Simmons may have to be at his persuasive best to turn out his strongest side in both games.
Niall O'Brien, the Northamptonshire wicketkeeper who was man-of-the-match in the 2007 win, would have to miss two county games, as would Surrey's Gary Wilson, while captain William Porterfield, Ed Joyce, Marshall, George Dockrell and Boyd Rankin would all have to forego one county fixture each.
Pakistan will have no such problems and the RSA Series should see the return to Irish soil of their superstar captain Shahid Afridi, who represented Ireland as an overseas player in the 2006 C&G Trophy.
With games against Sri Lanka and England also scheduled for later in the summer in Edinburgh and Dublin, Ireland will have faced all 10 Test-playing nations in little over a year.
Simmons was clearly delighted at the announcement of the games.
"This is what we have been crying out for -- fixtures against the top teams in the world," he said. "We have shown just how much our cricket has improved, and by playing these type of games it'll keep growing in the right direction. It will be a great chance for the players to pit their wits against some of the best cricketers in the world."