HEINRICH MALAN has certainly been given a baptism of fire in his job as Ireland Men’s Head Coach. His first three series saw him take on the No1 one side in the world, the No.5 and then the No.4. It was no surprise when Ireland lost each series and, after eight games, Malan is yet to taste a win.

If he’s hoping for some respite in the five-match series against Afghanistan starting today, he may be in for a shock.

‘It’s my first time coming up against Afghanistan’, he admits.

‘But we’ve got a few players who’ve a lot of IQ on playing against them, and I’ve tried to tap into that,’ he said yesterday.

Ireland haven’t beaten the Afghans in a full T20 match since 2013 and, of their 14 meetings in the past five years, the Afghans have won 13. The Irish did pull off a super-over win after a tied game in 2019.

The Afghans’ brand of aggressive batting and the demonic spin bowling of Rashid Khan will test Ireland’s fragile side.

Malan has tried to bring a more positive approach to Ireland’s batting and has had some success with Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker and down the order. But his main concern must be the opening bats who have each made just one 50 in their last 15 innings.

For too long Ireland relied on Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie – and the hastily-discarded Kevin O’Brien – but now the
middle order is coming under pressure as the openers struggle.

Most worries concern Balbirnie who cannot buy a run at present, and some have suggested a change at the helm.

However, Malan is standing by his man. ‘He’s played for Ireland for a very long time,’ he said.

‘He’s the leader of our troops and we’re very happy with the way he leads us on and off the field. I’m excited to see him doing that for us in this series and to lead us into the World Cup.

‘The first three series we’ve played have been against three of the best sides in the world. They’ve highlighted some of the areas we’ve got to invest some time in.

‘The brand that we’ve tried to put out there as a batting group has really taken off. A lot of really good stuff has been done and I’m really looking forward to seeing that against Afghanistan.’

Malan hinted that there may be opportunities for what he called the ‘wider squad members’ later in the series, with potential debuts for Stephen Doheny and Fionn Hand.

He added: ‘We need to keep building a bigger squad so players can come in and compete at any stage – the T20 World Cup is next but our fixture list will increase over the next 12-18 months.’