Big picture Geographically, Afghanistan and Ireland are arguably two of the most idiosyncratic rivals in cricket, but the intensity of this rivalry stemmed from a struggle for Associates supremacy throughout the 2010s before both sides gained Test status in 2017. locked in a virtual dead-heat at the time, or since then huddled on the hips like the fresh faces of the Full-Member Society, these two sides know each other better than most at this tournament.
Ireland and Afghanistan faced each other in three consecutive tournament finals during the Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier in 2010, 2012 and 2013, with the men in green winning the last two. That’s part of the 23 times these teams have met before in the format since their first meeting in 2010. Remarkably, however, this is the first time they’ve faced each other in a real T20 World Cup. Aside from those consecutive wins in the qualifying final, Afghanistan dominated the rivalry, thanks in large part to Ireland’s inability to negotiate Rashid Khan. But last summer the tide turned in Belfast when Ireland won a run of five games by a 3-2 margin. Rashid took just one wicket in the three matches Ireland won, pointing to a simple equation that has often determined the fate of the result over the years. Rashid takes wickets – Afghanistan wins. Ireland loses him – Ireland wins.
Form Guide Afghanistan: LLLLW (last five completed matches, most recent result first) Ireland: WLWWL
In the spotlight For most of his career, Irish captain Andy Balbirnie hit No. 3. But since Kevin O’Brien was dropped following Ireland’s disastrous performance in the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE, Balbirnie has moved himself to the opening role and has justified the decision by doubling his previous career of four half-century T20I. The most recent of these came against England at the MCG, and he also served as a catalyst for the opening round win over the West Indies taking them to the Super 12s with 37 from 23 balls. Rahmanullah Gurbaz was the best six-hitter in the Asia Cup, scrambling through the ropes 12 times to make 152 runs at a 163 stroke rate. It might take that kind of muscle to clear the ropes at the MCG. He was also one of only three players to score half a century for Afghanistan in the five-game series held in Belfast in August.
Team news George Dockrell has recovered from Covid-19 – he played against England and Sri Lanka anyway after testing positive – and should be fine to go against Afghanistan. It is unlikely that Ireland will change the winning combination they defeated England on the same ground.
Ireland (probably): 1 Paul Stirling, 2 Andy Balbirnie (capt.), 3 Lorcan Tucker (wk), 4 Harry Tector, 5 Curtis Campher, 6 George Dockrell, 7 Gareth Delany, 8 Mark Adair, 9 Barry McCarthy, 10 Fionn Hand, 11 Josh Little
Afghanistan, too, is likely to stick with the same combination that took to the field against England five days earlier, despite a losing effort.
Afghanistan (probably): 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), 3 Ibrahim Zadran, 4 Usman Ghani, 5 Najibullah Zadran, 6 Mohammad Nabi (capt.), 7 Azmatullah Omarzai, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 10 Fareed Ahmad, 11 Fazalhaq Farooqi
Pitch and Terms The MCG favors seamen in this tournament and has historically favored chasing matches with 10 of the 16 men’s T20I matches won by the team that finished second. The decision to hunt may be bolstered by Friday’s forecast. After rain that halted England’s pursuit of Ireland and forced Afghanistan’s game against New Zealand to be completely washed away, an 80% chance of showers is forecast from 8am-8pm Friday.
Quotes “I’ve seen a lot of rain in my time playing cricket, and I’ve never been so happy to see that rain come down when it happened.” Ireland captain Andy Balbirnie on the end of their win over England at the MCG.
“We are not here just to compete, but to win games. We have players and a team that can do that.” Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott on their approach to this year’s tournament.