Cricket: Simmons backs Kidd to step into breach
IRELAND have pulled off a number of amazing feats in winning the InterContinental Cup three times in a row, but beating Afghanistan over the next four days in Dambulla may prove the toughest task yet.
Only a couple of days after arriving in Sri Lanka, the national team take on the rising stars of the non-Test playing sides without injured strike bowler Boyd Rankin or an experienced spinner in the side.
Left-armer Gary Kidd will attempt to step in for the retired Kyle McCallan and injured Regan West but, with only 12 caps and 15 international wickets to his name, Ireland supporters may not expect too much.
By contrast, Afghanistan's strength is their spin department, the pitch is likely to suit them and their squad have been training and acclimatising locally since the beginning of the month.
Ireland coach Phil Simmons remains optimistic, though. "We can prove here that we have strength in depth and I am confident that Gary Kidd will do a good job for us," he said. "He was outstanding in the European 'A' Championship last year and deserves his chance.
"We also have Andre Botha able to bowl again and he and Trent Johnston know how to get batsmen out on these sort of pitches -- even when the conditions don't help seam bowling."
After being denied IC Cup victories over Kenya and Scotland by the rain last summer, Simmons knows Ireland can ill-afford to slip up in Dambulla if they are to reach November's final, with only three qualifying games to come against Holland, Canada and Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile in New Zealand, the Irish U-19 World Cup squad are hoping to have key batsman James Shannon fit for Saturday's opening Plate match against Zimbabwe only a week after spraining his right ankle in training. After the final group matches were completed yesterday, Bangladesh became the most senior team to join Ireland in the Plate, along with Zimbabwe, Canada, the USA, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong.