Ireland look to overcome Afghan obstacle
Ger Siggins (Irish Daily Star)
IRELAND face the biggest obstacle on the road to the 2015 Cricket World Cup at Clontarf today and Thursday.
Afghanistan have proved to be Ireland's hardest non-test opponents, with each side winning four of the eight games played since they first met in 2009.
But Paul Stirling is hoping to repeat his stunning 16-ball fifty in the final of World Twenty20 qualifier in Dubai in March.
The Middlesex opener is in blistering form and is leading scorer in the English T20 county competition this summer.
"The game in Dubai was a personal highlight. I've been in good touch with Middlesex and I'm hoping I'll be able to carry it on against Afghanistan.
"I hope the Ireland fans get behind us in Clontarf," he added.
Home conditions should prove a huge boost to William Porterfield's team on the Afghans first visit to Ireland for this week's two ODI qualifiers (10.45am) and next week's four-day match in Rathmines.
The visitors are without two injured stars -- all-rounder Hamid Hassan and captain Nowroz Mangal -- while Ireland are still without Boyd Rankin.
Porterfield's own form is a worry, with a run of 1, 3, 5, 4, 4, 7 for Warwickshire topped off with a duck last week against Australia.
The captain has been left out of recent T20 games by the county, and with Ed Joyce and Niall O'Brien also sidelined in the short format, Ireland's top order has seen little action.
Ireland have one uncapped player, 20-year-old Limavady all-rounder Stuart Thompson. While he is unlikely to start, it is just reward for match-winning displays in 'A' games against Gloucestershire and Scotland.
Coach Phil Simmons said: "These are two vital games as we look to build on the good start we've made to qualifying for the World Cup.
"Two wins would put us in a fantastic position in the group, but we're well aware of just how dangerous a side Afghanistan can be.
"We've had some tremendous tussles with them over the past few years."
Ireland (from) W Porterfield, P Stirling, E Joyce, N O'Brien, K O'Brien, A Cusack, J Mooney, A White, S Thompson, G Wilson, T Johnston, T Murtagh, G Dockrell, M Sorensen.