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5 Afghan & Irish players set to delight Test cricket

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Number_one_Best_Greatest_cricketAfter decades of struggle and pleading with the ICC for more matches, Ireland and Afghanistan have made the Associate Nations proud by gaining Full Membership, which in turn means that they have Test status. Although both teams are familiar to the cricketing world, courtesy their upset wins in World Cups, bilateral series with Test playing countries have rarely come their way.

To put things into perspective, Ireland played just nine games between the 2011 and 2015 ODI World Cups against Full Members. Afghanistan played even fewer and compared to the Irish their Test call has come much earlier.

Although Test status does not guarantee instant Tests against Full Members, the administrators and management can now hold talks with the main Test teams to arrange for one-off Tests or a two match series. Even Bangladesh, considered much more than minnows now, rarely get more than two Tests against major Test playing nations. The struggle is by no means over for the Irish and Afghans but now they have a pathway to getting more matches.

While the excitement of the elevation to Test level is still sinking in for both nations, here is a list of five players from these countries who would be most watched out for when they take the field to play Tests.

1. Ed Joyce

The former England middle-order batsman and Ireland's most experienced hand, 38 year old Ed Joyce gave up county cricket this year in order to play Tests for Ireland. An elegant left-handed batsman with the composure and patience of a proper Test batsman, Joyce was made to play Test cricket.

The dream took him away from Ireland and into England where he played a handful of ODIs before making it to the Ashes squad to play Australia. However, Joyce never got a cap and in 2011 returned to represent Ireland in the World Cup. At 38, he isn't expected to play a 100 Tests, but could provide the much needed experience to an Irish line-up playing Tests for the first time.

2. Mohammad Nabi

At 32, Mohammad Nabi is one of Afghanistan's most experienced cricketers. A talented middle-order batsman and a more than handy off-spinner, Nabi is an indispensable all-round option for the Afghans across formats. His debut First-class innings was a hundred against a Zimbabwe XI and he also led the side to the 2015 ODI World Cup.

The experience of Nabi will be vital for Afghanistan, who were fast-tracked to Test cricket. The all-rounder has played First-class cricket in England, Pakistan and Bangladesh and is known as a tough bloke. With bigger competitions and tougher Test assignments expected to come their way, Nabi will be one figure that Afghanistan cricket will look up to. As of now, he is already a hero amongst the youngsters in the country and his legacy will go down in the history books of Afghanistan cricket. He was also just one of the two Afghan cricketers to grab an IPL contract.

3. Paul Stirling

An attacking opening batsman and a very handy off-spinner, Paul Stirling has carried Ireland's top order batting on his young shoulders. A naturally aggressive batsman, Stirling isn't scared to take on the best, as evidenced by his 5 hundreds and strike rate of 91.54 in ODIs. He made his ODI debut at the young age of 17 and instantly drew comparisons with the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Virender Sehwag for his flamboyant batsmanship.

He became noticed after a 101 against Netherlands in the 2011 World Cup followed by a hundred in an ODI series against Pakistan. Stirling shone with the red ball for Middlesex averaging 43.87 in six games in 2014. Just a week back he slammed his maiden Championship hundred for Middlesex against Yorkshire. In March 2017, Stirling took a six-fer against Afghanistan in an ODI before making 95 with the bat to get Ireland close. It was a superlative all-round show from an immensely talented cricketer.

4. Rashid Khan

The biggest sensation in Afghanistan cricket is 18 year old leg-spinner, Rashid Khan. The top wicket taker of 2017 in ODIs, the scintillating young spinner was a revelation in the IPL after he grabbed a Rs 4 crore contract with Sunrisers Hyderabad. He played a vital role with the ball in his side's run to the semi-finals of the league.

Rashid has a perfect leg-spinner in addition to a well disguised googly that makes him a really difficult bowler to pick. He troubled the best in the business during the IPL and recently took a career best 7/18 to help Afghanistan beat West Indies in an ODI. The figures were the fourth best in the history of ODI cricket. If Afghanistan is to become a strong force in Test cricket, there is little doubt that Rashid Khan will be a critical factor.

5. Kevin O'Brien

A hard hitting all-rounder, Kevin O'Brien made headlines for his exploits in the 2011 World Cup match against England. Chasing a mammoth 328 for victory, Ireland were tottering at 111/5 when O'Brien unleashed himself on a hapless England bowling unit. The ball disappeared to all parts of Bengaluru as O'Brien slammed a maiden ODI hundred.

Ireland went on to win the game and O'Brien was etched into World Cup history with his sensational knock of 113 from 63 balls, the fastest hundred in World Cup history at the time. He has plied his trade for four counties besides playing T20 cricket in Bangladesh, West Indies and New Zealand. He has quite a few variations with the ball as well and could well be one of Ireland's trump cards in Test cricket.

 

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