Afghanistan has been on top of its 50-over game over the past year, winning a couple of series against Zimbabwe and a couple of one-off one-dayers as well. If that wasn’t enough in terms of momentum, it notched up a 78-run win over Scotland in the second of the two ODIs after the first was washed out.
Now, it runs into a different opponent, who presumably has an entirely different approach to the Afghani puzzle. Ireland has the onus of attempting to seal the series 4-1 or better if it is to leapfrog the Asian side to tenth in the ICC ODI Team Rankings.
Afghanistan is currently tenth with 51 points, with Ireland 12th on 41 points. A 4-1 win for Ireland in the series will lift it to 51 points with Afghanistan slipping down to 44. A series win, on the other hand, will keep Afghanistan ahead of Ireland.
But more than points and rankings, the teams will be hoping to make the most of the international exposure, and for someone like Mohammad Shahzad it could mean lucrative deals in Twenty20 leagues around the world.
Shahzad, who once again proved his ability by scoring 84 from 91 balls in Afghanistan’s win over Scotland, has become a star since his showing at the World Twenty20 where he put some of the world’s best bowlers to the sword.
The opener and Asghar Stanikzai, the skipper, have marshalled the troops impressively to highlight the side's progress repeatedly. They will hope for more support across the line-up.
It will also be the second series for new coach Lalchand Rajput, as he looks to realise the side's growing ambition.
Ireland, meanwhile, was outplayed by a visiting Sri Lanka last month and has an unenviable task of regrouping since those losses and since exiting the ICC World T20 2016 earlier than it would have liked.
The likes of Max Sorensen, George Dockrell, Boyd Rankin, Andrew Balbirnie, Craig Young and Niall O’Brien are some of the bigger names who were either dropped or unavailable for this series. But with the inclusion of new faces in Mark Adair, the paceman, and Sean Terry, the top-order batsman, and the recall to Peter Chase and Tyrone Kane, it has a side filled with youth and experience and should pose a heady threat to Afghanistan’s hopes of a third straight series victory.
Ireland: William Porterfield (captain), Mark Adair, John Anderson, Peter Chase, Ed Joyce, Tyrone Kane, Andy McBrine, Barry McCarthy, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O’Brien, Stuart Poynter, Paul Stirling, Sean Terry, Garry Wilson.
Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (captain), Amir Hamza, Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Hamid Hassan, Javed Ahmadi, Mirwais Ashraf, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad, Najibullah Zadran, Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Rashid Khan, Samiullah Shenwari, Shapoor Zadran, Yamin Ahmadzai.