With series at 1-1 ahead of penultimate game, both Associate sides will aim for an all-round effort to edge ahead
With the five-match One-Day International series in the balance at 1-1, Ireland and Afghanistan head into the fourth game in Belfast on Sunday (July 17) with a chance to take an unassailable lead.
The series is vital for both sides as it's seen as a competition of the top two Associate teams. Fittingly, both Ireland and Afghanistan have fought neck and neck so far, resulting in the 1-1 scoreline after the first match was washed out by rain.
Ireland perhaps went into the series with an edge as it was playing at home but Afghanistan didn't take much time to show why it is considered a dangerous unit. The visiting side had warmed up to this series with a 1-0 ODI win over Scotland and continued the form into the second game against Ireland resulting in a 39-run win.
The victory led to talks of Afghanistan becoming the series favourite, but it was now Ireland's turn to up its game. The home side did just that in the third game and squared the series with a comfortable six-wicket victory.
Afghanistan's fortunes with the bat seem to depend on Mohammad Shahzad, its opener. With three consecutive half-centuries (84, 66 and 81) in the tour of United Kingdom, Shahzad is clearly the man in form and has taken up the responsibility on his own broad shoulders. Najibullah Zadran is the other batsman with a half-century. In these last two matches, Afghanistan will want the rest of the line-up to show consistency and convert starts.
The bowling, meanwhile, has been a complete team effort with everyone chipping in. Mirwas Ashraf and Dawlat Zadran, the pacers, have given good starts for the spinners, Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan, to build on.
Both Ireland and Afghanistan have fought neck and neck so far, resulting in the 1-1 scoreline after the first match was washed out by rain.
Ireland was under pressure ahead of the third match after losing the second game and the preceding two-match series against Sri Lanka, but corrected its mistakes well in the next game. It needed one big knock from a top-order player and Ed Joyce stepped up, batting through the innings in a competitive chase.
His unbeaten 105 and an 85-ball 75 from Kevin O'Brien meant Ireland made light work of the 237-run chase in the third game, giving itself a chance of a series win and more importantly a big morale boost.
The bowling unit, which came under fire after the Sri Lanka series, showed signs of improvement against Afghanistan. O'Brien and Barry McCarthy, the left-arm pacer, have done the bulk of the work and lead the wickets tally with seven wickets each.
John Anderson's return to the playing XI, however, is still under a cloud. Anderson, who was hit by a Shapoor Zadran bouncer in the second ODI, sat out of the third game with symptoms of concussion and will undergo a series of tests before being declared ready for selection.
Neither side seems to have a distinct advantage, and if the weather stays clear, the series could be in for a fitting finish.
Ireland: William Porterfield (capt), John Anderson, Ed Joyce, Peter Chase, Tyrone Kane, Andy McBrine, Barry McCarthy, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O’Brien, Stuart Poynter (wk), Paul Stirling, Sean Terry, Gary Wilson, George Dockrell.
Afghanistan: Samiullah Shenwari, Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Mirwais Ashraf, Gulbadin Naib, Dawlat Zadran, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Noor Ali Zadran, Javed Ahmadi, Asghar Stanikzai (capt), Rahmat Shah, Mohammad Nabi, Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran, Amir Hamza, Yamin Ahmadzai.