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Ireland hopes to banish middle-order blues

The side will need to get its bowling in order too if it is to prevent Afghanistan from sealing the ODI series
Rashid Khan's 6 for 43 are his career-best figures

Afghanistan will be keen to keep the momentum going and seal the One-Day International series against Ireland in the third of five games at Greater Noida on Sunday (March 19).

With stars like Mohammad Shahzad, Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi in the side, it was Asghar Stanikzai, the captain, who put his hand up in the second ODI as he smashed a crucial 90-ball 101 to take the team to a massive 338 before Rashid bagged a career-best, match-winning 6 for 43.

With ten wickets in the ODI series so far, in addition to the nine scalps in the preceding Twenty20 International series, Rashid is in the form of his life and Afghanistan will hope he can continue in the same vein.

But it was Stanikzai's performance that grabbed the maximum eyeballs as he anchored the innings to perfection before feasting on the Irish bowling to take Afghanistan to its highest ODI score, bettering its previous best of 302 for 5 against United Arab Emirates in 2014.

Ireland, meanwhile, has had a tough time on this tour. It has already been blanked 3-0 in the T20Is, and will hope luck smiles on it as it aims to halt the Afghanistan juggernaut.

It's not that Ireland hasn't had its chances, but frequent collapses have hurt it. William Porterfield, the captain, and Paul Stirling, the allrounder, have sparkled at the top of the order but there have been no notable contributions from the middle order.

Ireland  has had a tough time on this tour and will hope luck smiles on it as it aims to halt the Afghanistan juggernaut
Ireland has had a tough time on this tour and will hope luck smiles on it as it aims to halt the Afghanistan juggernaut

In the second game, Stirling and Ed Joyce, the openers gave the side a perfect start with a 113-run stand. Stirling, who had taken 6 for 55 to become the first Ireland bowler to take six wickets in an innings, hit an impressive 95 in 80 balls. But Ireland failed to capitalise on that as it folded for 304 in the 48th over, 34 runs short of the target.

That the middle order is in need of a shake-up can be gauged from the fact that despite Porterfield and Stirling being the top two run-getters in the series Ireland hasn't managed to win a single game.

For a long time, the European side was considered the top dog among Associate nations, but in the last couple of years Afghanistan has been brilliant, and Ireland has been forced to play catch-up.

The pitches also haven't been to Ireland's liking, with the flat wickets not offering much for its pacers, especially George Dockrell, the key left-arm bowler. Jacob Mulder, the legspinner, has been somewhat impressive but hasn't been consistent enough.

But Ireland was also aware what surfaces would welcome it in India long before it boarded the plane. A little more application from the batsmen and a little less waywardness from the bowlers could go a long way in helping it reverse the string of defeats.

Teams (from):

Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (capt), 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 (capt), Gary Wilson (wk), Niall O’Brien, 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.

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