Ireland head coach Heinrich Malan has backed captain Andrew Balbirnie to come good in the upcoming five-match T20 series against Afghanistan at Stormont, with the first game today.

Balbirnie has hit a wall since scoring 60 against India in the second match of the summer, scoring just 11 runs in the three one-day internationals against New Zealand and although he reached double figures in his next four games, his top score was 14, while his latest innings, in the second T20I against South Africa in Bristol on Friday, was an eight-ball duck when he looked shockingly out of touch.

Even in that innings of 60, when Ireland got to within one run of chasing down India’s 226, he couldn’t hit the ball off the square for the first three overs. But Malan, like everyone else, has no doubt about his quality and believes he is one innings away from a return to form.

“Andrew has played for Ireland for a very long time and has performed for a long time, he is the leader of our troops and we are happy the way he leads us as a group on and off the field. We are excited to see him do the same over this series and into the World Cup.”

While his place may not be in doubt, unless he gets a score in the next couple of games his position as opening batsman will surely come under discussion.

Since scoring an ODI century against South Africa in his first match as opener last summer, when he replaced the injured William Porterfield, Balbirnie has gone in first 22 times with only three more half centuries and two 40s.

The choice to replace him for the next three matches is limited, however, with Gareth Delany the only other recognised opener in the squad. Delany’s form with the bat is even worse than his captain with a top score of eight in his last eight games, which has brought a total of 18 runs, batting at three or five.

But his leg spin bowling is giving Balbirnie an attractive option, and Malan insists they have “three guys who can bowl (spin) at any time in T20 cricket”.

He went on: “We have Andy McBrine, Gareth and George (Dockrell) is Ireland’s leading wicket-taker in T20 cricket and over the last couple of summers has been one of the leading wicket-takers in domestic cricket. We have real options in that space depending on the match-ups.”

It will be the Ireland batsmen who will face the supreme test of playing spin bowling over the next 10 days however, with their nemesis Rashid Khan leading the Afghanistan attack and still No.3 in the world rankings, and while Mohammad Nabi is the tour captain, mystery spinner Mujeeb Zadran has not been included in the initial squad because of a visa problem.

For Malan, it will be the first time in his coaching career he has faced Afghanistan but he has plenty of players with experience of facing what were their biggest rivals in Associate cricket. Afghanistan have leapt ahead though – especially in the T20 arena – since gaining Full Member status.

“We have a lot of IQ in the room from our senior players so we have been tapping into that since the quick turnaround from Bristol, but we just want to build on our performances and if we show consistency, we will get across the line in this series and I’m really looking forward to seeing the boys building in that space,” said Malan.

Squads – Ireland: A Balbirnie (capt), M Adair, C Campher, G Delany, G Dockrell, S Doheny, F Hand, G Hume, J Little, A McBrine, B McCarthy, P Stirling, H Tector, L Tucker.

Afghanistan: Mohammad Nabi (capt), Afsar Zazai, Azmatullah Omarzai, Darwish Rasooli, Farid Ahmad, Fazalhaq Farooqui, Hashmatullah, Hazratullah Zazai, Irbrahim Zadran, Karim Janet, Najibullah, Naveen-ul-Haq, Noor Ahmed, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Rashid Khan, Sharafuddin Ashraf.