Skipper Andy Balbirnie under pressure as his troops get ready for Afghan test

Andy Balbirnie will have twin goals in Belfast this week: to beat Afghanistan and finally get an Ireland win on the board after agonising near misses against India and New Zealand, and to break his personal drought of low scores.

fter losing 10 straight ‘home’ internationals, it’s inconceivable given their recent visible improvement in the shortest format that the Boys in Green won’t win at least one of the five-match T20 series that gets under way at Stormont this afternoon.

The captain’s form is another matter, though. After taking over as T20 opener from Kevin O’Brien in December, Balbirnie has reached 20 only five times in 17 innings and his knocks since the World Cup qualifier have brought returns of 0, 60, 12, 10, 10, 14 and 0.

Asked yesterday whether Balbirnie would continue to open (it has been suggested the skipper drops down the order or even sits out), coach Heinrich Malan played a very straight bat.

“He’s the leader of our troops and we’re very happy with how he leads us as a group – on and off the field – and I’ll be excited to see him do that in this series,” he said.

The selectors had appeared to paint themselves into a corner by naming the same squad of 14 that lost last week’s two games against South Africa in Bristol, but they have now conceded changes may be made later in the series, if required.

“It’s about finding the right balance,” Malan said. “We want to build on where we’re at, making sure all our bases are covered for the World Cup, but nothing’s off the table at this stage.”

Despite his words, some things are not so much off the table as locked away in a cupboard.

There will be no recall for O’Brien, and a big chance was missed when Clontarf speedster David Delany was not asked to replace the injured Craig Young.

Ireland are hoping Conor Olphert will be fit and firing for the start of the World Cup campaign in October but if not, a speedy replacement like Delany would surely be preferable in Australian conditions to the reliable medium pace of Graham Hume.

If changes are made, Mark Adair’s older brother Ross has been in sparkling form in the InterPros, and would be a popular home-town call-up, with matches to come at the same venue on Thursday, Friday, Monday and Wednesday.

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