Ireland Chase Treble, Afghanistan Bid To Retain Title
When Afghanistan and Ireland meet in the final of the ICC Intercontinental Cup this week plenty is at stake. Ireland are chasing a hat-trick of tournament wins this year while Afghanistan are the reigning champions and yet to be beaten in this format.
The five-day game in Dubai, which will be streamed live on YouTube by the ICC, is the final match of a gruelling campaign which began in June 2011.
Afghanistan, who beat Scotland to lift the title in 2010, and three-times winners Ireland, proved themselves the class of the field, earning the right to play in the final by finishing ahead of Canada, Kenya, Namibia, the Netherlands, Scotland and the United Arab Emirates in the league stage.
Now, history beckons both sides.
Afghanistan would become only the second team after Ireland to retain the title while should they win, Ireland would become the first team to win three ICC titles in different formats in one year, having already claimed victory in the ICC World Cricket League Championship (one-day cricket) and the ICC World Twenty20 Quailfier.
While Afghanistan are looking to preserve an impressive record of no defeats in 14 matches, experience is on Ireland's side as in Trent Johnston and Andrew White, they boast players that played in the inaugural Intercontinental Cup back in 2004. They both picked up winners medals in 2005, 2007 and 2008.
This will be Johnston's final international match and captain William Porterfield is keen to ensure he is given a fitting send-off.
"It has obviously been a really good year for us so far. Having won both the 50-over and Twenty20 tournaments, we are keen to make it a treble," Porterfield said
"Added to the fact that we could make it a treble is that it will be Johnston’s last game for Ireland. I am sure that the lads will be looking to send him out on a high."
When the two sides last met, in Dublin in July 2012, Afghanistan were in all sorts of trouble when they were dismissed for 84 before bad weather stopped Ireland from taking full advantage and the match was drawn.
Conditions are expected to be completely different in the United Arab Emirates and Porterfield adds that Ireland can't wait to get started.
"We know that Afghanistan is going to be really tough opposition, especially in Asian conditions over five days. But we are raring to go," he added.
What is the ICC Intercontinental Cup?
The ICC Intercontinental Cup is the premier first-class competition for non-Test playing nations. A round-robin group stage is played before the top two sides play a five-day final at a neutral venue.
How can I keep up with the action?
The ICC will be streaming the final via their YouTube channel and you can watch it without leaving Cricket World by clicking here.
What about Twitter?
Who will win?
Good question. Ireland have had an outstanding year and perhaps have the edge in terms of personnel but Afghanistan have never lost an Intercontinental Cup match and are the reigning champions. They won't want to finish second to Ireland again. You'll just have to tune in to find out.
"There will be quite a few changes in our side that played in that rain-affected game, as quite a few of our players were on county duty then. Regardless of who was on the team sheet for that game, we still expect this to be a very keenly contested final.
"We have prepared as we do for any opposition, we will have our plans for individual players, et cetera. I think both teams know each other pretty well by now because of how often we play. So, I think that both teams will be well prepared for the game."
Afghanistan went through the entire league campaign without losing a match and will now want to make it third time lucky in 2013 after Ireland beat them to both the World Cricket League and ICC World T20 2014 Qualifier titles.
"We are ready for the final," captain Mohammad Nabi said.
"We have done well against Ireland in the ICC Intercontinental Cup so far with one win (January 2010 in Dambulla) and one draw. So, we are in a good position.
"In a five-day match, the game changes a lot and you get opportunities to fight your way back. Our big positive is our pace bowling, and reverse swing will come into play, which should work to our advantage. So, it will be a good contest between both the sides."
Looking back to the match in Dublin Nabi said: "When we played them in Ireland, we had a few new players and the conditions were very different. Weather dominated the match as only two days of cricket was possible.
"Here in the UAE, the conditions will be different. We have been unbeaten so far and our team is in good rhythm."
Ireland squad: William Porterfield (captain), John Anderson, George Dockrell, Trent Johnston, Ed Joyce, John Mooney, Kevin O'Brien, Niall O'Brien, Max Sorensen, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Andrew White, Gary Wilson
Tim Murtagh was a late withdrawal from the squad, returning home due to personal reasons.
Afghanistan squad: Mohammed Nabi (captain), Mirwais Ashraf, Izzatullah Dawlatzai,
Nawroz Mangal, Gulbadin Naib, Shabir Ahmed Noori, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Mohammad Shahzad, Samiullah Shenwari, Sayed Ahmed Shirzad, Asghar Stanikzai, Dollat Zadran, Afsar Khan Zazai, Rahmat Shah Zurmati
Previous Tournament Finals
2004: Scotland beat Canada by an innings and 84 runs in Sharjah, UAE
2005: Ireland beat Kenya by six wickets in Windhoek, Namibia
2007: Ireland beat Canada by an innings and 115 runs in Leicester, England
2008: Ireland beat Namibia by nine wickets in Port Elizabeth, South Africa
2010: Afghanistan beat Scotland by seven wickets in Dubai, UAE
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