Associate rivals battle for higher seeding
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Abu Dhabi, 1800 local (1400 GMT)
The pacesetters in the Associate and Affiliate world meet in the final of the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier for the third consecutive time. Ireland and Afghanistan occupy a distinct space between the Full Members they aspire to be and all other Associate Members, whom they have consistently been a step ahead of since 2010.
The ICC World Twenty20 next year is another opportunity for these two teams to demonstrate that they are bridging the gap with Full Members. Although qualification for the tournament isn't at stake in the final, both teams will be jockeying for preferred seeding in what has been labelled by the ICC as the opening round of the tournament in Bangladesh.
The last two finals of this tournament were played in Dubai with raucous crowds turning out in support of Afghanistan. The Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi is a more remote location than Dubai Sports City and not as easy for fans to get to, but the indication from the semi-final against Nepal is that the Afghan supporters are undeterred by logistical obstacles. They are expected to create a lively atmosphere in the hope of spurring their side to reclaim the title from Ireland.
Players to watch
Ireland have a slew of more heralded players than Max Sorensen, who has mostly flown under the radar since making his debut for his adopted country in 2012. Sorensen has taken up the fast-bowling spearhead mantle for Ireland and quietly made a big impact in this tournament, with 13 wickets in seven games. He took 4 for 15 in the semi-final against UAE to wreck the home side's chase. Sorenson is eager to show that Ireland will get along just fine without Boyd Rankin and Trent Johnston.
Samiullah Shenwari stands out in the Afghanistan team because of the smile permanently glued onto his face. The legspinning allrounder has also been noticeable for his consistent contributions during this campaign. His 16 wickets are tied for third overall in the tournament while his outrageously low bowling average of 6.87 is far and away the best of anyone in the top ten wicket-takers list. He's claimed three Man-of-the-Match awards, the most for any player at the qualifier, including in the semi-final against Nepal after a spell of 3 for 19 followed by 24 not out carried Afghanistan into the final.
Ed Joyce has gone home on paternity leave, but in a sign of Ireland's depth it's doubtful that many people noticed he had not played a single match at the tournament. Ireland used virtually the same XI all tournament and were unbeaten. Niall O'Brien was left out of the side in the last group game against Hong Kong and the semi-final against UAE, but a recall is possible because his experience may come in handy against Ireland's arch nemesis in the Associate world.
Ireland: (possible) 1 William Porterfield (capt), 2 Paul Stirling, 3 Niall O'Brien, 4 Kevin O'Brien, 5 Gary Wilson (wk), 6 John Mooney, 7 Trent Johnston, 8 Alex Cusack, 9 Max Sorensen, 10 George Dockrell, 11 Tim Murtagh
Strike bowler Hamid Hassan played just one match in the tournament before a chronic knee injury flared up to rule him out of the rest of the event. Afghanistan was still able to finish atop Group B because their pace bowling depth is the best of any team in Associate cricket, with Shapoor Zadran, Dawlat Zadran and Izatullah Dawlatzai piling the pressure on at a considerable pace. Batsman Noor Ali Zadran went down with an injured hamstring against Nepal in the semi-final and Asghar Stanikzai has been added to the squad as a replacement.
Afghanistan: (possible) 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Karim Sadiq, 3 Nawroz Mangal, 4 Asghar Stanikzai, 5 Mohammad Nabi (capt), 6 Samiullah Shenwari, 7 Najibullah Zadran, 8 Gulbadin Naib, 9 Izatullah Dawlatzai, 10 Shapoor Zadran, 11 Dawlat Zadran
Stats and trivia
- Ireland's Paul Stirling was Man of the Match in last year's final win over Afghanistan after recording his highest score in Twenty20 Internationals, 79 off 38 balls.
- Ireland captain William Porterfield has the highest score of any player at this year's tournament, 127 not out against USA.
- Afghanistan's Samiullah Shenwari took 5 for 13 against Kenya, one of only four five-wicket hauls during the tournament.
- The teams have split their four previous Twenty20s down the middle at 2-2, with Afghanistan's pair of wins coming at the 2010 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier.
"We've had a few against them over here and it always brings out a big crowd as well. They get great support from the locals here so it's always fantastic to play here. To be under lights again will be a great atmosphere and it'll be a fiercely contested game."
Ireland captain William Porterfield
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey