Coming into last week’s Oman T20I Quadrangular series, Ireland were winless in their previous five T20Is and had also lost five straight T20Is to the Netherlands. It took a last-ball six by Stuart Poynter in a thrilling one-wicket win to break the latter streak and batsman Andy Balbirnie is hoping Ireland can use that as a turning point to break another lengthy losing streak against Afghanistan.
“We would have liked it a bit easier than it was but when you’re a team that haven’t won a lot of games recently in T20 cricket, just to get over the line anyway is a big relief, particularly going into a big series against Afghanistan who are one of the top T20 teams,” Balbirnie told ESPNcricinfo ahead of the T20I series opener.
The two sides play the first of three matches in Dehradun on Thursday before subsequent games on Saturday and Sunday. Balbirnie says Ireland showed great resilience against the Dutch, who were 116 for 0 in the 10th over before being held to 182. The win helped Ireland move up one spot in the ICC’s T20I rankings to 17th and for Balbirnie, who top-scored with a career-best 83 off 50 balls, the fight they showed is evidence that they have turned a corner in T20s after recent struggles.
“If we play good cricket and compete like we did [against Netherlands] in the field when we were staring down the barrel, we should come out with some good results,” Balbirnie said. “As long as we’re playing good and we’re fighting in the field, we should be okay.”
Balbirnie is well aware of the recent history between the two sides though, with Ireland having lost seven straight T20Is to Afghanistan. The last time Ireland beat Afghanistan was in the final of the 2013 T20 World Cup Qualifier in Abu Dhabi when the side posted an Ireland record total of 225 for 7 in a 68-run win.
Only three Ireland players remain from the last starting XI that beat Afghanistan: Paul Stirling, Kevin O’Brien and George Dockrell. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s reversal of fortunes has coincided with the emergence of Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, a dual threat that Balbirnie is keenly aware of.
“We know what threat Rashid and Mujeeb have and people like [Mohammad] Shahzad in their squad,” Balbirnie said. “So there’s a lot of threats all over the park.
“We’ve not been playing great T20 cricket so to go into a series like Afghanistan who have world class players in their side that are playing franchise cricket at every franchise opportunity, playing in their backyard is gonna be a huge ask. In T20 cricket there’s no denying that we’re massive underdogs against them but I think we’ve got a bit of freedom in our squad at the moment. We’ve got some players that can come in and out and do a job. I think we’re gonna enjoy it.”