A return to winning ways has Irish eyes smiling again
Ireland delivered the perfect response to their defeat in the first one-day international against Afghanistan to level the four-match series at 1-1 with a six-wicket victory at Stormont.
Batting second for the fourth time out of four this summer, Ireland got that winning feeling back again thanks to an eighth century for his country by their classiest batsman, Ed Joyce, and, in his new role in the middle order, Paul Stirling finished the job with an unbeaten 39 from just 37 balls.
In between, Kevin O'Brien, the team's most consistent performer with bat and ball this season, scored 75, his highest one-day tally for three years. It is only one win, but for the first time in eight matches the sound of singing came from the Ireland dressing room after the game.
The emphatic victory - they reached their target of 237 with 15 balls to spare - was all the more impressive considering they were without no fewer than six first choice players through injury or unavailability, in-form Merrion batsman John Anderson the latest to miss out with concussion.
The choice of replacement seemed to be between uncapped Sean Terry or a recall for Gary Wilson; in the end the captain and coach chose both and surprisingly left out George Dockrell, the one left-arm slow bowler in the team.
Although neither Terry nor Wilson justified their place - the debutant was leg before to his sixth ball and Wilson dropped a sitter at slip and wasn't required to bat - the selection proved shrewd because the six slow bowlers in the match picked up only two of the 14 wickets on a pitch which played much better than on Tuesday.
So it was credit to the Ireland pace bowlers, who kept it so tight with Tim Murtagh claiming the huge wicket of Najibullah Zadran, the dangerous left hander, before he could get going and Barry McCarthy again following O'Brien's lead and chipping in with valuable late wickets as Afghanistan were bowled out with five balls unused.
Peter Chase was the most expensive bowler, again struggling for consistent line and length, but, crucially, he ended the innings of two of the three top scorers - Mohammad Shazad for another controlled innings of 81 from 95 balls with 10 fours, and the captain Ashga Stanikzai, thanks to a fine running catch by Joyce.
When William Porterfield, caught at second slip in the second over off the bowling of the recalled Hamid Hassan, was followed quickly by Terry and Stuart Poynter - a tame shot straight to backward square leg - Ireland were 29 for three and again staring down the barrel.
But the difference from Tuesday was that Joyce did not get out, the Sussex batsman batting metronomically and with great discipline.
His 50 came up in 68 balls with four fours and his century from 133 with eight boundaries, one of them a superb six pulled over mid-wicket off Dawlat Zadran.
He celebrated his century with an extra cover drive - thumped rather than stroked, which is his usual method - to tie the scores and a deft flick next ball to fine leg finished the match.
Joyce said: "I'm chuffed to get the runs and another century.
"We were going to bowl first anyway and there was less spin in second innings so that favoured us, although I thought we played their spinners much better and Kevin took the impetus away from them which is difficult to do.
"Stirlo down there gives us more depth, it's much harder finishing than opening but it is a great bonus for us."
Indeed, Stirling might have to get used to batting in the middle order, even beyond this series. It was only his third match for Middlesex or Ireland in white ball cricket outside the top three but, after a nervous start, he was quickly into his free-flowing stride and hit five fours to complete the job he was asked to do.
Kevin O'Brien, unsurprisingly, was the chief boundary hitter, 11 of them in his 85-ball innings which contributed to the 144-run stand, the highest for any wicket by an Ireland pair in a home ODI. His time with Leicestershire this season is not only serving him well but is benefiting Ireland.
The momentum is now with Ireland going into the penultimate game on Sunday, back at Stormont, when Anderson should be fit to return and although the side have yet to prove they are ready to compete on equal terms with Pakistan, South Africa and Australia - as they must in the next two months -this was an encouraging start.