AFGHANISTAN VS IRELAND, 2017
Cricbuzz Staff •
Ireland need a win to stay alive in the series © Getty
Once counted amongst the strongest associate nations, Ireland now face the probability of an embarrassing ODI series defeat to Afghanistan, all within a week of being swept 0-3 in the preceding T20I series. The Irish will be looking to arrest their middle-order blues as well as lift their inconsistent bowling in the hope to halt the Afghanistan juggernaut when the two teams face off in the third of the five-match series on Sunday (March 19), at the Greater Noida Sports Complex Ground.
Afghanistan have been on a roll in this limited-overs series, at their adopted home. That the T20I sweep was no aberration has been well highlighted by their all-round performance in the one-dayers so far, where they have put up clinical performances both with the bat and ball to keep Ireland on their toes.
On the placid track in Greater Noida, Afghanistan put up commanding totals of 292 and 338, led by their in-form top-order batsmen Mohammad Shahzad and Rahmat Shah. Skipper Asghar Stanikzai put his hand up in the latest fixture and scored a fine 90-ball 101 that all but threw Ireland out of the contest well before they could begin to chase. Afghanistan suffered a lower-order collapse, brilliantly triggered by experienced all-rounder Paul Stirling, but the top-order, led by Shahzad and Rahmat’s sixties and their skipper’s brisk ton had ensured they gave their bowlers plenty to play with. Stanikzai’s onslaught, in fact, took his side to its highest ODI score, surpassing the previous best of 302 for 5 against UAE in 2014.
The 18-year-old legspinner Rashid Khan then sprang into action to trigger a dramatic collapse that saw Ireland slipping from a comfortable 173 for 1 to 228 for 5 before eventually being bowled out 34 short of the target. Rashid, who bagged career-best 6 for 43, has been a revelation for Afghanistan in this series, topping the wicket-takers charts ahead of his much-anticipated IPL debut for Sunrisers Hyderabad. Following him closely on that list is the experienced Dawlat Zadran, who has provided ample support from the other end.
Despite their batting woes and a daunting target in front of them, Ireland were in with a chance to level the series. Stirling followed up his career-best 6 for 55 with an equally impressive 95 with the bat to keep his side in the hunt, with support from Ed Joyce (55) at the other end. But following his dismissal – five short of equalling Paul Collingwood’s feat of six-fer and a century in same game – Ireland went down a familiar path. The middle-order crumbled like a pack of cards – not for the first time on this tour – as Rashid and Zadran chipped away. Skipper William Porterfield hung in there and Stuart Thompson chipped in with a brief cameo but the contributions weren’t enough to overhaul the massive Afghanistan total.
Ireland have had a forgettable tour, notably because of pedestrian batting. Porterfield and Stirling have been at their best but with no sizeable contributions coming from the rest, the pattern of their defeats has been disturbingly similar. What has hurt them the most is that their star performers, including the O’Brien brothers and Gary Wilson, have struggled to get some runs under their belt. The fact that the Indian pitches haven’t been very conducive to their fast bowlers has only added to their woes.
Ireland, at the start of the contest, enjoyed an upper hand due to their experience but that has been rendered futile by Afghanistan’s spirited show. Come Sunday and the hosts would be keen to keep the momentum going as they eye an unassailable 3-0 lead.
Afghanistan: Mohammad Shahzad, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Noor Ali Zadran, Asghar Stanikzai(c), Nasir Jamal, Gulbadin Naib, Najibullah Zadran, Shafiqullah Shafiq, Mohammad Nabi, Dawlat Zadran, Fareed Ahmad, Rashid Khan, Amir Hamza, Rahmat Shah, Javed Ahmadi
Ireland: William Porterfield(c), Andrew Balbirnie, George Dockrell, Ed Joyce, Jacob Mulder, Tim Murtagh, Andy McBrine, Barry McCarthy, Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien, Boyd Rankin, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson, Craig Young