Irish face ‘critical’ ODIs – Stirling

Ireland opener Paul Stirling plays a cut shot against Afghanistan

Ireland vice-captain Paul Stirling is relishing the seven ODIs against United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi this month.

Four games against hosts UAE are followed by the Afghanistan series, which is part of the World Cup Super League.

“The Afghanistan series is key – they are World Cup qualifying games so are really important,” said the opener.

“We would really need to be targeting a 2-1 victory, if not a 3-0 win.”

He added: “We’ve always had good games against Afghanistan – we’ve beaten them in their own conditions, which we are in here, a number of times but we know we’ve really got to be at our best.”

Ireland arrived in Abu Dhabi last weekend and are preparing for Friday’s opener. They also face UAE on 10, 12 and 14 January at the Zayed Cricket Stadium before taking on Afghanistan on 18, 21 and 23 January.

Potential on show

It’s a youthful Irish squad on tour and the UAE series provides the perfect stage for a few to shine.

“It’s always nice to play teams like UAE because we’ve been missing that calibre of games in the last number of years since our move up in status and we’re always playing the big teams – you get carried away in trying to topple the giants,” said the big-hitting former Middlesex and Northamptonshire batsman.

“So it’s nice come back to that Associate level – it gives great opportunities to the young lads here to go and win games for Ireland.

“The youngsters coming through are hugely exciting. It’s just nice to see that energy, the youngsters really want to learn – they’re practising all day and you can see how keen they are to perform.

“The opportunities they have are fantastic in the first four months of this year with the seven Abu Dhabi games and we’re hoping to have a tour of Zimbabwe confirmed. Hopefully by the end of that period we will see more matchwinners for Ireland.”

Harry Tector
Harry Tector is among Ireland’s ‘young guns’ hoping to impress coach Graham Ford

Ireland will be in competitive action for the first time since their shock win over England in August, with all squad training and travel since then carried out within strict Covid-19 guidelines.

“We just have to get on with it – we’re so lucky to play this game, we’re thankful we can actually put sport on and people can watch it.” said the 30-year-old left-hander.

“We know we’ve got great support back home. It’s great just to be able to get out there and play cricket again and hopefully put a smile on a few people’s faces.

“For us it keeps the mind fresh and we can do what we love doing – when it’s taken away you really miss it.”