Afghanistan are just one win away from claiming the five-match ODI series. Photo Courtesy: Aditya Sahay
Afghanistan are just one win away from claiming the five-match ODI series. Photo Courtesy: Aditya Sahay (CC Reporter)

In all honesty, we do not enjoy watching the same XI win time and again, albeit the victorious side is your very own country. It is just that we all love to see competition and new results with every game. In a brilliant contest between Afghanistan and Ireland series at Greater NOIDA, the former’s continued dominance had taken a toll on me. It was almost a repeat telecast of the previous tie. Nonetheless, the Irish camp finally made inroads in third of the five-ODI series. The win came as a respite, given they had been whitewashed in the T20I series and thrashed further in the first two ODIs. However, after gaining momentum in their sixth attempt of the tour, they will like to strike again and keep the five-match series alive on Wednesday. Full Cricket Scorecard, Afghanistan vs Ireland, 4th ODI 

How did Ireland turn things around?

The stadium has been filled with young and energetic crowds backing the Asian line-up. After all, the zeal for the game is certainly more in the subcontinent. As a matter of fact, the stands witnessed another full house (almost) on a Sunday afternoon. Nonetheless, the script changed this time around. Ireland’s bowlers Peter Chase and Tim Murtagh got the early wickets of Mohammad Shahzad and Noor Ali Zadran. Shahzad’s dismissal was pleasing, as he usually sets the tone with blistering cameos. However, this wasn’t the case.

Irish camp had Afghanistan caught in a fix at 67 for 5 as Stuart Thompson, George Dockrell and Andy McBrine joined the party with regular breakthroughs. The pitch eased out as the game progressed and Afghanistan’s lower order bailed them out. Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan and Shafiqullah Shafiq’s fifties propelled the score to 264 for 8 in 50 overs.

It was, however, a much-improved performance by Ireland as they kept the opponents under 300. But, as they say, the task was half done. Paul Stirling’s 99, along with Niall O’Brien’s 30, had taken their side to 179 for 4 in 37.4 overs. Irish camp’s middle order were left to finish off the game — a job wherein they faltered in the opening ODIs. Nonetheless, Andrew Balbirnie and Gary Wilson ensured a 1-2 scoreline by winning the clash in the 49th over, with 6 wickets intact.

Amidst all this, Rashid’s wicket column remained wicketless, which proved to be decisive. Ireland, particularly Stirling, played the leg-spinner’s short balls going on the back foot, and tabbed his full length deliveries coming forward. There was an evident plan to see off the 19-year-old’s overs and accelerate against the others. The strategy worked and hence the result changed.

Naib, Balbirnie put things into perspective

In the post-match conference, Naib and Balbirnie represented their dens respectively. Naib did not hesitate from claiming that the top order’s failure and Rashid’s wicketless spell paved way for Ireland’s triumph. On the other hand, Balbirnie was quite pleased with his knock and termed it as his best. On being asked what was the major reason for the turnaround, he stated, “Rashid was the key. We had to play him well.  I wanted to be there as it is difficult for a newcomer with him spinning the ball both ways.” However, he also cautioned his side that the leg-spinner is a quality bowler and will eye a comeback. In short, Ireland will have to continue handling him with care in the remaining matches.

Big blow: Despite the pleasant outing, Irish camp received a setback in the evening. Boyd Rankin, who has not featured in a single game, has been ruled out of the tour. Their inexperienced bowlers will have to maintain consistency in the final two ODIs. A stiff challenge lies ahead of them.

Predictions: It is difficult to predict what lies ahead. Afghanistan will definitely want to fold the series on Wednesday. On the other hand, Ireland, despite gaining momentum, will have to keep a lid on Rashid. This certainly looks like a challenge. Expect another, or near, 300-plus total on a flat turf. However, with Afghanistan batting first on 5 out of 6 games, I can try and predict another chase from Ireland.

Meanwhile, look at what the Irish bunch is upto. They have certainly earned this break and are trying to keep themselves fresh ahead of another do-or-die encounter.

Squads:

Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (c), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Amir Hamza, Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Samiullah Shenwari, Gulbadin Naib, Najibullah Zadran, Fareed Ahmad, Ihsanullah Janat, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Dawlat Zadran, Karim Janat, Aftab Alam.

Ireland: William Porterfield (c), Gary Wilson, Niall O’Brien (wk), Kevin O’Brien, Ed Joyce, Boyd Rankin, Paul Stirling, Andrew Balbirnie, George Dockrell, Jacob Mulder, Tim Murtagh, Andrew McBrine, Barry McCarthy, Stuart Thompson, Craig Young.

Time: 9:30 IST