Afghanistan likely to highlight gulf in class
William Porterfield met opposite number Asghar Staniksai in Sharjah yesterday, ahead of a three-match ODI series against Afghanistan starting today, looking like an old boxer who once had the measure of a brash youngster but now knows he is likely to get beaten up.
No matter his brave words, the Ireland captain must realise that without the injured Ed Joyce it will be an achievement to win one of the three 50-over games, never mind the series, on a surface tailor-made for spinning wizard Rashid Khan and his colleagues.
"When you come here to Sharjah you know it's going to spin," Porterfield said.
"So we are looking at how we are going to play that, and especially how we are going to combat Rashid who has had a fabulous 12 months and is one of the best around."
Leg-spinner Rashid was on top form in March when Afghanistan settled any lingering arguments as to who were the better side, hammering Ireland in a T20 series in Greater Noida, near Delhi, before emphatically ending the four-time champions' hopes of a fifth InterContinental Cup win.
The five-game ODI series was closer, though, as Afghanistan squeezed a 3-2 win in the final game, and with the teams drawing 2-2 in Ireland the previous year it would appear that the 50-over distance is best suited to an even contest between two rivals who were both elevated to Test match-playing status in June.
"We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and this will be an important three games for both sides as we both prepare for the World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe next year," Porterfield said.
"We know that the pitches down there are likely to be similar, slow-turners and well worn at the end of their season, so we need to see how we can set competitive scores and also defend with our bowlers.
"I know there are only two World Cup places available and we are up against the West Indies and Zimbabwe as well, but I believe both these teams here can qualify."
The difference between the two sides - one on a seemingly unstoppable rise and the other in slow decline - is that if Ireland reach a fourth successive World Cup it will be a major surprise, while Afghanistan are not only expected to qualify but to give a good account of themselves in the finals.