Preview - Australia Step Up Ashes Preparations
Ireland v Australia A
Stormont, 14th-17th June
Preview by Ryan Bailey
With the Ashes series just weeks away and places still very much up for grabs, opportunity is very much the buzz word around Stormont as Australia 'A' continue their tour of the British Isles with a four-day game against an Irish side shorn of their county cricket stars.
However, it’s not just the Australians who have plenty riding on this weekend's clash but also the hosts who will hand several fringe players the chance to impress coach Phil Simmons ahead of July’s Intercontinental match-up with the Netherlands.
With doubts still very much lingering over the make-up of Australia's best side to reclaim the famous urn, an eye-catching display with either bat or ball for those involved in a Baggy Green may well just propel them into the team for the first Test at Trent Bridge.
The tourists highlighted the strength of their travelling party as they demolished Scotland inside three days in Edinburgh. The ICC Champions Trophy means that Australia will have little time to get red-ball cricket under their belt in English conditions so wicket-keeper Brad Haddin, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon and all-rounder Steve Smith are all getting match practise with the second string XI.
But it was James Pattinson, who is also included in the Ashes squad, who stole the limelight against the Scots with seven wickets to highlight his ability to swing the ball and bowl with pace.
Ireland should provide Troy Cooley's charges with a slightly stiffer challenge but will have to do without several of their big name stars. Such is the dilemma facing those who ply their trade in England, they are forced to miss representing their country in a glamour fixture because of county commitments.
Captain William Porterfield, Gary Wilson, Tim Murtagh, George Dockrell, Niall O’Brien and Ed Joyce are all absent as they have not been released by their clubs.
However, Ireland have made significant progress in recent years and should have enough about them to compete with their superior opponents.
Players to Watch
The home side will be buoyed by the availability of highly-rated batsman Paul Stirling after Middlesex decided it would be beneficial for him to get more red ball cricket under his belt.
He is yet to convert his limited-overs potential into consistent first-class scores but will be eager to show he can adapt to all formats of the game against a potent Australian bowling attack. The reluctance of Middlesex to use him in their Championship team is frustrating for the 22-year-old but their loss is very much Ireland’s gain.
Even before bowling a ball for his new country, Fawad Ahmed is being hailed as a potential new spin king and ahead of his debut for his adopted nation on Friday, the leg-spinner has already received glowing endorsements. His performance will be closely scrutinised in a game which is an expected stepping stone towards a call up for the Ashes series.
Trent Johnston will spearhead the Irish bowling attack after shaking off an Achilles injury while Max Sorensen has recovered from a finger complaint. Kevin O’Brien will captain the home side in the absence of Porterfield while 19-year-old Scott Campbell is included in the squad for the first time and could make his debut as the front line spinner.
Ireland: (probable) Paul Stirling, John Anderson, James Shannon, Stuart Poynter, Andrew White, John Mooney, Alex Cusack, Trent Johnston, Max Sorensen, Peter Connell, Scott Campbell.
Australia A are unlikely to make too many changes to the side that outclassed Scotland last week but Ahmed is expected to make his debut in Belfast. Injury-prone bowler Ryan Harris will once again watch on from the boundary along with Tasmania seamer Jackson Bird.
All-rounder’s Smith and Moises Henriques will be given another opportunity to make a late push for an Ashes berth Usman Khawaja will be keen to spend more time in the middle at the top of the order.
Australia A: (probable) Jordan Silk, Alex Doolan, Usman Khawaja, Steven Smith, Brad Haddin (captain), Moises Henriques, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Ashton Agar, Chadd Sayers, Fawad Ahmed.
Dark clouds have been hanging over Belfast for the past few days and unfortunately persistent rain showers are forecast for the majority of this game. However, there are glimpses of brighter, drier conditions in store for Saturday and Monday so there should be enough play for either side to force a result.
Stormont isn’t a ground renowned for high-scoring encounters and with overhead conditions likely to suit bowlers, expect a fairly low-scoring game.
"It's something we've looked forward to - playing quality opposition over the longer format. The guys are excited, particularly at taking on their bowling attack.
"I've always enjoyed the four-day stuff and we've had some great victories, particularly away from home. Now we're hoping we can put on a good show on our own patch."
Ireland’s Andrew White
"Ireland are a good side so we have to play well. Hopefully we'll get some runs and wickets, and it's all part of the lead-up to the Ashes, which is our main focus. The boys in the A tour realise that if they perform well they can move up to the highest level.
Australia off-spinner Nathan Lyon
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