MATCH PREVIEW: Can Ireland negate Rashid threat to carry on strong Quad Series form?
February 21st 2019 by Ben Gardner, Wisden | International
Don’t be fooled by the final standings. Despite finishing third out of four teams in the Oman T20I Quadrangular Series, behind European rivals Scotland and the Netherlands, Ireland only did so on net run rate, and emerged from the competition with plenty of positives – a new big-hitting opening partnership chief among them.
Still next up is, on paper at least, a tougher challenge; Afghanistan, with whom Ireland’s rise has been intertwined, against whom they have clashed many times over the years, and a side who, in this format at least, have had the upper hand in recent contests.
“I think Afghanistan have gone better in the T20 stuff of late, though we know what they bring,” said Ireland captain Paul Stirling on the eve of the series. “They have very good spinners and a batting line-up that really comes hard against us. We know what to expect, we’ve played them a lot in the recent past and we hope to get off to a good start.”
Ireland come into the series as underdogs. They have lost their last seven T20Is against Afghanistan, and their opponents will be able to call upon their star players, with Rashid Khan, Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, and Mohammad Nabi all available. But they also come into it a competitive T20 series under their belt, and familiar opponents.
Key battle – facing down the spinners
Afghanistan’s spin attack might just be the world’s best in limited-overs cricket. In Rashid and Mujeeb they have a pair of bowlers who can turn the ball both ways, and with little discernible change of action. They are in demand in T20 leagues around the world, and with good reason.
Rashid in particular has always enjoyed playing against Ireland, with 18 wickets in seven T20Is against them, a bowling average of 7.55, and conceding less than a run a ball all the while.
“[Rashid Khan] has been the main difference between the two sides in the recent past,” said Stirling. “Whenever he performs well for them, or we don’t play him particularly well, I think that really is a big advantage for Afghanistan, so he’ll definitely be one of the bowlers we’ll be trying to negate.”
Rashid’s presence will – as in recent encounters – be a challenge for Ireland’s middle-order batting. Ireland’s top three were dominant in the Quad Series – all of Paul Stirling, Kevin O’Brien, and Andrew Balbirnie featured in the top four run-scorers across all teams – but Ireland will need to learn to finish an innings strongly after a top order has laid a strong platform.
Against Netherlands they were 99-1 in pursuit of 183 but stumbled through the middle overs, saved only by Stuart Poynter’s last-ball six, while against Scotland, not even a record-breaking opening stand of 115 was enough to lay the groundwork for a match-winning total. A batting improvement in those overs 13-18, and an improved method of combatting Rashid, could be the key to changing their fortunes against Afghanistan.
A slow-ish, turning track is expected. With clouds and the possibility of rain in the forecast, chasing could be the way to go.
Ireland – Paul Stirling (Captain), Andrew Balbirnie, Peter Chase, George Dockrell, Shane Getkate, Josh Little, Andrew McBrine, Kevin O’Brien, Stuart Poynter, Boyd Rankin, Simi Singh, Harry Tector, Stuart Thompson, Lorcan Tucker
Afghanistan - Asghar Afghan (c), Usman Ghani, Najeeb Tarakai, Hazratullah Zazai, Samiullah Shinwari, Mohammad Nabi, Shafiqullah Shafaq, Rashid Khan, Najibullah Zadran, Karim Janat, Farid Malik, Sayed Shirzad, Zia-Ur-Rehman, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Zahir Khan, Sharafuddin Ashraf