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Spin wizard: Rashid Khan is likely to be Afghanistan’s key player at Stormont this week

Spin wizard: Rashid Khan is likely to be Afghanistan’s key player at Stormont this week

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Spin wizard: Rashid Khan is likely to be Afghanistan’s key player at Stormont this week

It may be simplistic to say that this week's one-day internationals at Stormont will be decided by the clash between Ireland's top order batting and Rashid Khan but, invariably, that has been the case ever since Afghanistan introduced the world's leading leg spinner to Ireland in July 2016.

That was the first of 13 ODIs that Rashid has played against William Porterfield's side and the statistics are remarkable. In the seven games that Afghanistan have won Rashid - the No 1 ranked bowler in Twenty20s and No 2 in ODIs - has taken 27 wickets. In the six matches that Ireland have won, he has taken six, which includes three blanks.

At his pre-series Press conference, ahead of today's first game (10.45am), Porterfield broke the statistics down even further.

"A number of those wickets have been numbers nine, 10 and 11, which I'm not too worried about," said the Ireland captain. "If he bowls to the tail he will generally have one over on them but if we can minimise his success against the top seven then that's when we can come out on top.

"We know he is a very good bowler, and ranked number one for a reason, but the more you play against him, the more you get to see and you have to evolve your game as he evolves his. But yes, if he doesn't have a successful week in the end column then we will have a very good week.

"But you want your top order to perform and then five, six and seven to produce cameos and guys lower than that chipping in. It's our job to put the total on the board and if we play Rashid and (mystery spinner) Mujeeb well then with the attack we've got we can put ourselves in with a great chance to win the game."

With the covers on all day yesterday, it is doubtful that Ireland will play two spinners today, but Porterfield is backing his pace men, including Tim Murtagh, who needs one more wicket for his 50th in ODIs.

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"Our seamers have done well and you'd expect them to get a little bit more assistance so hopefully they can continue to do what they've been doing," Porterfield added.

"Murts and Nobby (Niall O'Brien) no longer play Twenty20 cricket so weren't involved last week but it's nice to have them back in the squad.

"Nobby has had a pretty good season, banging out runs in virtually every format he has played for the (North West) Warriors, so hopefully he is in good touch coming into this week and as for Murts you know what you are going to get when he turns up."

Waiting in the wings is the one uncapped player in the 14-man Ireland squad, 20-year-old Clontarf paceman David Delany, and even if he doesn't get a run-out this week, Porterfield knows the next fast thing on the block will learn a lot.

"It's a great week for him and the chance to be around Murts and Boyd Rankin, he can soak up that experience and knowledge.

"As long as he doesn't put any pressure on himself, just focus on letting the ball go. He can bowl quick and I won't be putting any expectations on him. I will just tell him to enjoy himself and learn from it, and it will be great for him if he gets that opportunity," said the captain.

Although Ireland lost last week's T20 series 2-0, the second game heavily, Porterfield does not believe they have to change much going into today's action.

"It's a completely different format and two good knocks took the series away from us. We have played Afghanistan a lot and are confident we can come out on top in our home conditions and the biggest thing I'll be looking for tomorrow is to start the series well.

"The last three series we have lost the first match, so if we can hit the ground running, it will make the rest of the week a whole lot easier than potentially coming from behind."

Plotting Ireland's downfall again is Afghanistan head coach Phil Simmons and he admitted he was surprised Ireland were not more competitive last week.

"We played well and we'll be going out to play our best again this week," he said. "But it's good preparation for us with the World Cup being played in England next year and a chance to see how the guys play in weather like this!"


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