Our prediction is Afghanistan to win!
Test cricket’s newest members Afghanistan and Ireland are used to playing against one another and meet again in the first of three Twenty20 Internationals in India this month. Their last meeting was a washout in August but prior to that, Afghanistan have had the upper hand in the shortest format of the game. Ireland have not won against the Afghans since 2013 – a run of seven straight defeats before that latest no result.
However, they come into the game in decent form after wins over Oman and the Netherlands – another team they had a poor recent record against – in the quadrangular tournament, which also saw them beaten by Scotland. Afghanistan, meanwhile, have not been in action since the Asia Cup in September even though some of their star players have been featuring in tournaments such as the Big Bash League.
The Afghans’ rise up the rankings to a point where they have earned direct qualification for the 2020 T20 World Cup has been hugely impressive. They are currently on a run of seven straight victories in completed matches after beating Ireland twice, Bangladesh three times and Zimbabwe twice last year.
Although they have not been in Twenty20 action since August, their players have been keeping busy in various leagues around the world. Rashid Khan excelled in both the Mzansi Super League in South Africa and the Big Bash League in Australia. There he was joined by Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rehman and Qais Ahmed. It is the sort of experience that will prove invaluable for the Afghan squad in years to come – and a clear advantage for them over Ireland.
From the side that toured Ireland, wicket-keeper Mohammad Shahzad has been dropped while they have selected a brace of uncapped left-arm spinners in Zahir Khan and Zia-Ur-Rehman – one or both may feature with pacer Aftab Alam not included. Shafiqullah should take the gloves and Usman Ghani is a contender to open the batting.
Usman Ghani, Hazratullah Zazai, Samiullah Shenwari, Asghar Afghan (c), Shafiqullah (wk), Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Fareed Ahmed, Mujeeb Ur Rehman, Zahir Khan.
Farid Malik, Karim Janat, Asghar Afghan, Hazratullah Zazai, Samiullah Shenwari, Shafiqullah, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Sharafuddin Ashraf, N Zadran, Mohammad Nabi
Ireland come into this match having beaten the Netherlands with a last-ball six and Oman more comprehensively in the quadrangular tournament. However, they were beaten by Scotland – who went on to win the title – and now take on an opponent they have not beaten for almost six years. In Josh Little, they might have found the death bowler they have badly needed for some time and with Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien in good form at the top of the order, they can be confident of facing up to the challenge.
They have plenty of experience to draw upon with Boyd Rankin back in their ranks but some promising young talent in the likes of Little, Simi Singh and Harry Tector to call on if required. They may well go in unchanged from the side that beat the Netherlands last time out and look to their experienced players to guide them.
Paul Stirling (c), Kevin O’Brien, Andrew Balbirnie, Stuart Thompson, Shane Getkate, George Dockrell, Simi Singh, Stuart Poynter (wk), Josh Little, Boyd Rankin, Peter Chase.
Joshua Little, Shane Getkate, Simi Singh, SR Thompson, George Dockrell, Peter Chase, Paul Stirling, Kevin O'Brien, WB Rankin, Stuart Poynter, Andy Balbirnie
The weather forecast in the build-up to the match is warm and dry. There is almost no chance of any rain even though it will be quite humid. It does tend to take turn and the weather conditions will do nothing to change that. It can be slow.
The Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium is a relatively small stadium so has been known to host high-scoring matches in the past. It has hosted just three Twenty20 Internationals, all of which were won by Afghanistan against Bangladesh last year. The average score batting first is 148
Afghanistan have shown a slight preference for batting first in their most recent T20 Internationals but proved equally happy chasing or setting a target in Dehradun against Bangladesh. Their better knowledge of the conditions might see them force Ireland to set the pace and bat first against their battery of slow bowlers. Ireland have batted second the last four times they have won the toss and would probably prefer to chase.
In 2010, Afghanistan’s first ever T20I was against Ireland. They lost by five wickets. A lot has changed since then and now they go into this match as clear favourites. They have made a habit of beating Ireland since then but have also defeated plenty of other teams too. Although they have been out of action as a team for a while, their players have been impressing all over the world in major T20 leagues. Their unblemished record at this ground suggests they have what it takes to go 1-0 up in the series, even if to do so, they must stop Stirling and O’Brien from getting Ireland off to a flyer.
Our prediction is Afghanistan to win!
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