With the five-match series tied 1-1, both Afghanistan and Ireland will be desperate to claim the victory in the fourth ODI, so that the they can gain the unassailable lead, and put the opponent in a must-win situation going into the final encounter of the series. Rain was expected to play a major spoilsport in the contest, but apart from the first ODI that was washed out, the weather has held out well, allowing both the teams to display their talent. While the visitors put up a good all-round effort in the second ODI, Ireland hit back hard in the next game, to keep things alive.
On expected line, the series has been a competitive one, for both Ireland and Afghanistan have fought tooth and nail. Nothing different will be expected when they meet on Sunday at Belfast. Ireland began the series as slight favourites being hosts, but Afghanistan took no time in proving that they are going to be no pushovers. And, the manner in which they have performed ever since gaining international status, even against top opponents, their 39-run victory over Ireland wasn’t an upset in any sense. However, Ireland were always going to fight back, and did exactly that with a six-wicket win in the third match.
For Afghanistan, Mohammad Shahzad has been the standout performer by some distance. He smashed 84 in the second ODI against Scotland, and has followed it up with two more brilliant half-centuries. Although his last fifty was in vain, Afghanistan will be hopeful he continues his great run. However, the Shahzad has been excellent, the rest of the batting hasn’t lived up to expectations. Najibullah Zadran has got a half-century to his name, but the likes of Javed Ahmadi, Samiullah Shenwari and skipper Asghar Stanikzai need to come up with the goods. They have the talent and experience, so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t do well.
As for Afghanistan’s bowling, the pacers Mirwas Ashraf and Dawlat Zadran have done reasonably well, but haven’t been backed up as expected by Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan. Hosts Ireland, on
other hand, will be keen to build on the gains from previous match. They went into the third ODI having tasted three back-to-back losses at home, two against Sri Lanka, and one against Afghanistan. As such, they would have been desperate for a win. To their credit, Ireland came up with a good all-round show to stay alive.
The hosts were excellent with the ball, restricting the opponents to 236 in spite of Shahzad’s 81. Kevin O’Brien, Barry McCarthy and Peter Chase combined to claim eight wickets among themselves. Then, in the chase, the experienced Ed Joyce put his hand up with a hard-fought hundred while Kevin O’Brien starred with the bat as well, smashing 75 from 87 balls. Paul Stirling also chipped in with an unbeaten 39 as Ireland got home with ease. As mentioned earlier, both sides will be keen to inch ahead on Sunday.
--By A Cricket Analyst