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Ireland hope for more of the same on home patch

 

Top performer: Mark Adair took four wickets in his fifth game
Top performer: Mark Adair took four wickets in his fifth game

By Ian Callender

Ireland are in unknown territory going into today's second one-day international against Afghanistan at Stormont (10.45am).

For the first time in six bilateral ODI series between the teams, Ireland have won the first match, and it will be fascinating to see not just how they follow-up but how Afghanistan, in their last competitive match before the World Cup finals, respond.

Faced with a green pitch, helpful to Ireland's seam bowlers, and after an unsatisfactory build-up to the game - it was nine days since the Afghans played Scotland and, rather than travel to Belfast at the start of last week for preparation, as requested by the coach, they were "stuck in Scotland" with limited facilities - it was maybe not surprising they were well beaten.

However, coming off the back of a three-match Tri-Series against the West Indies and Bangladesh, when the visitors scored more than 1,000 runs at a run-rate of over seven and a strike rate of 84 runs a wicket, the Ireland bowlers were hardly in a great place.

But with Mark Adair taking four wickets in only his fifth game, upstaging Boyd Rankin (three) and Tim Murtagh (two), veterans of 154 ODIs, it was the almost perfect team bowling performance as they defended an under-par 210 so easily. But the greater test will come today on another new Stormont pitch.

There is no way that Phil Simmons will let the Afghans put in such an anaemic performance again and expect him to ring the changes ahead of their final two World Cup warm-up games in England against Pakistan on Friday and the hosts on Monday.

The Ireland selection will be just as interesting because when Afghanistan were in Belfast last August, the same 11 played in all three games. This time captain William Porterfield and head coach Graham Ford must decide whether to give George Dockrell another game or let Tyrone Kane loose, on what should be a pitch again with assistance for pace bowlers, for his ODI debut.

Kane could also fit into Dockrell's batting slot, and while he has reached double figures only twice in his five previous innings for Ireland, significantly his top score was 26 not out on the only occasion he has batted at No 7.

He also comes into a confident bowling line-up but Kane may have to wait for his first bowl, following the parsimony of Andy McBrine and Murtagh with the new balls on Sunday which, as Adair admitted, made his task so much easier when he was introduced, for the first time in his fledging international career, with an old ball.

"It was nice to come on when the lads had built a bit of pressure," said Adair.

"Andy and Murts bowled well up top and gave them absolutely nothing, something we hadn't done in the Tri-Series and it was nice to put things right.

"The batters thought they were looking at 250 but lost a couple of wickets so had to reassess. We still probably should have got upwards of 220-230 but they bowled well, and facing four overs of Rashid Khan at the end was hard. It was not a pitch you can start well on, Porty and Stirlo (Paul Stirling) both had to graft for their runs

"But a win's a win and if we can go 2-0 after a disappointing Tri-Series when the bowlers, in particular, didn't string too many games together, it will be a perfect response."

It would, but it would also be the first time in five years that Ireland have won back to back ODIs on home soil.

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