International cricket is back to the north-west of Ireland after a gap of nearly two years and close on the heels of Afghanistan and Ireland cricket making history in 2018. Less than 12 months since being awarded Full Member status by the ICC, the two teams took their first step in cricket whites, and against two stalwarts like Pakistan and India. The result didn’t go their way but the fact that they’d pulled off a journey all the way up until a Test debut was worth all the applause.
As teams yearning for more cricket against top sides, Ireland and Afghanistan are in the same boat. And yet, there appears to be some room for a budding rivalry in limited-overs, with each looking over the shoulder of the other when it comes down to qualification for big multi-team events.
Before the 1st T20I yesterday where Afghanistan walloped Ireland, the Afghans held the aces as far as T20I numbers were concerned. A 7-3 head-to-head record with the last three successive victories coming in the bilateral series in 2017, played in India. Afghanistan also had a far superior overall record in the format – winning 44 games out of the 66 they’d played – including a 100% win-record this year (5 wins in 5). Ireland had played one T20I more than Afghanistan, but had only 27 wins to show for themselves. The 2018 tally was abject too – 1 win, 4 losses and a tie in six fixtures.
1st T20I – Aug 20, Mon @ Bready Cricket Club, Bready, Northern Ireland 08:30pm
Afghanistan won by 16 runs – (Match reduced to 18 overs per-side due to rain)
2nd T20I – Aug 22, Wed @ Bready Cricket Club, Bready, Northern Ireland 08:30pm
3rd T20I – Aug 24, Fri @ Bready Cricket Club, Bready, Northern Ireland 08:30pm
1st ODI – Aug 27, Mon @ Civil Service Cricket Club, Belfast 03:15pm
2nd ODI – Aug 29, Wed @ Civil Service Cricket Club, Belfast 03:15pm
3rd ODI – Aug 31, Fri @ Civil Service Cricket Club, Belfast 03:15pm
But with a T20 World Cup still more than a year away, there’s an opportunity for Ireland – currently ranked 17th – to rework their record against the eighth-placed Afghanistan in their own climes. To do that they need to work on a few things posthaste.
2nd T20I – Wednesday August 22 (Tomorrow), 2018 @ 08:30pm, Bready Cricket Club, Bready, Northern Ireland
Ireland should take a few positives from the first game despite the 16 run loss. Joshua Little bowled with a fair amount of pace and mixed up fuller length deliveries with slower ones. The promising pacer, who withdrew from a T20 series against Afghanistan last year to pursue higher education, is expected to be one of the mainstays of the bowling line-up in the years to come. He also brings the much needed variety into the attack, with his left-armer’s angle. However, the hosts would be worried about their collapse at the top of the order, which saw them losing four wickets for 55 runs. Among the batsmen, only Paul Stirling (27) and Gary Wilson (34) made decent contributions. Barring a couple of matches against Scotland, where Andre Balbirine and Stirling played fine hands, Ireland’s batsmen have struggled for form in the T20 format this year. Ireland would hope for a better batting show in the crucial second T20I tomorrow.
However, two young men who had played a combined three T20Is before yesterday’s contest served notice of potentially bright futures. Afghanistan‘s Hazratullah Zazai’s 33-ball 74 had turbocharged the team before Joshua Little’s 2 for 20 in four overs reined them in, but the visiting team’s 160 for 7 in a rain-shortened match still proved too many for Ireland. Tasked with a stiff chase, Ireland’s aspiration were sullied early by Mujeeb ur Rahman who struck twice in his first two overs and by the time Rashid Khan came on to bowl, Ireland were already 60 for 4 in eight overs and facing a required-rate of more than ten. It was a steep ask against any opposition, leave alone the world’s No. 1 T20I bowler.
Brief Scores 1st T20I (18 overs a side) – Afghanistan 160 for 7 (Hazratullah Zazai 74, Asghar Afghan 31, Mohammad Shahzad 29, Joshua Little 2-20) beat Ireland 144 for 9 (Paul Stirling 27, Gary Wilson 34, Rashid Khan 3-35, Mujeeb Ur Rahman 2-14, Fareed Ahmad 2-29) by 16 runs
Ireland: The hosts might look to bolster their pace attack by bringing in the experienced Warwickshire pacer Boyd Rankin. James Shannon, who impressed in the first T20I against India with a fifty last month, might also come into the equation.
Squad: Gary Wilson(c), Andrew Balbirnie, Peter Chase, David Delany, George Dockrell, Joshua Little, Andy McBrine, Kevin O Brien, William Porterfield, Boyd Rankin, James Shannon, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson
Afghanistan: The visitors have a settled look to their T20 side and could be tempted to play the same XI that won the first game.
Squad: Mohammad Shahzad, Usman Ghani, Hazratullah Zazai, Shafiqullah Shafiq, Asghar Stanikzai(c), Samiullah Shenwari, Mirwais Ashraf, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Aftab Alam, Farid Malik
Let’s get in some action folks, lots of action in the pipeline!
Who is your Super 8?
Leagues up in the Lobby folks!