Ireland were blanked 2-0 in the three-match Twenty20 International series – the final game was abandoned – and were beaten by 29 runs in the first ODI, despite restricting Afghanistan to a sub-par total.
Ireland’s batting was the worry. They lost too many wickets too soon, and just couldn’t stitch together partnerships. It was so iffy for Ireland that, Tim Murtagh conceded that the likes of Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman were “world-class bowlers”, who “made all the difference” between the two sides.
However, the home side showed much-needed fight in the second ODI on Wednesday. They restricted Afghanistan to 182/9 after the visitors opted to bat, and even had them at 16/4 at one point.
Andrew Balbirnie then scored a second consecutive half-century, and this time found support in Paul Stirling (39) and Simi Singh (36*) as Ireland drew level in the three-match series.
Good as that win was, the batting problems didn’t really get fixed. There were still wobbles, with William Porterfield, the captain, dismissed for nought early on, and the O’Brien brothers, Kevin and Niall, managing just 18 runs between them.
The three-wicket victory, in fact, came thanks to Singh showing plenty of nerves in his 59-ball knock. “It would have been nice to get over the line with 10-15 overs to go but it is important that we won,” Porterfield later said. Ireland will take confidence from that.
Afghanistan will take solace from the fact that they once again troubled the home side considerably, despite, once again, posting a small total. That said, they have batting concerns of their own to address.
Hazratullah Zazai scored consecutive half-centuries in the T20Is, but he has been dismissed for 14 and 1 in the ODIs. Mohammad Shahzad’s usual gung-ho feats were missed as well, and Afghanistan have a problem facing the new ball.
All of which means the final ODI might well come down to the batting – the side that copes better can come away with the series.
Paul Stirling (Ireland): Having failed to make a mark in the T20Is and the first ODI, the 27-year-old finally came good for Ireland in the second ODI, and scored an important 39. It resulted in Ireland’s best performance with the bat so far against Afghanistan, and if he can give Balbirnie that support once again, Ireland can realistically hope for the best in the decider.
Hazratullah Zazai (Afghanistan): The 20-year-old scored consecutive half-centuries in the two T20Is, but the runs have dried up in the ODIs. The change in formats certainly hasn’t helped his cause, but he’s young and he’s talented. If he can click in the decider, Ireland’s chances will diminish rather quickly.
Ireland: William Porterfield (c), Andy Balbirnie, Peter Chase, George Dockrell, Andy McBrine, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O'Brien, Niall O'Brien, Boyd Rankin, James Shannon, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Gary Wilson, Josh Little
Afghanistan: Mohammad Shahzad, Javed Ahmadi, Asghar Afghan (c), Rahmat Shah, Samiullah Shenwari, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Aftab Alam, Ihsanullah Janat, Sayed Shirzad, Dawlat Zadran, Wafadar.