On geographical terms, Afghanistan and Ireland are perhaps two of the most peculiar rivals across cricket, but the intensity of this rivalry was borne out of a battle for Associate supremacy throughout the 2010s before both sides were elevated to Test status in 2017. Whether locked in a virtual dead heat in that era, or joined at the hip in the time since then as the fresh faces of the Full-Member society, these two sides know each other better than most at this tournament.
Afghanistan: LLLLW (last five completed matches, most recent result first)
In the spotlight
For most of his career, Ireland captain Andy Balbirnie batted at 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 into the opening role and has justified the decision by doubling his prior career tally of four T20I half-centuries. The most recent of those came against England at the MCG, and he also served as a catalyst for the opening round win over West Indies that took them into the Super 12s with 37 off 23 balls.
George Dockrell has recovered from Covid-19 – he played anyway against England and Sri Lanka after testing positive – and should be fine to go against Afghanistan. It’s unlikely Ireland will change the winning combination that saw them beat England at the same ground.
Ireland (probable): 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 are likely to stick with the same combination that took the field five days earlier against England despite a losing effort.
Afghanistan (probable): 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 conditions
The MCG has favored seamers in this tournament and historically favors chasing sides with 10 out of 16 men’s T20I matches won by the team batting second. The decision to chase may be even more enhanced by the forecast for Friday. Following the rain that halted England’s chase against Ireland and forced Afghanistan’s match against New Zealand to be washed out entirely, an 80% chance of showers is forecast from 8 am until 8 pm on Friday.
“I’ve seen a lot of rain in my time playing cricket, and I’ve never been happier to see that rain come down when it did.”
Ireland captain Andy Balbirnie on the ending to their win over England at the MCG.
“We’re not just here to participate but here to win matches. We’ve got players and a squad that can do that.”
Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott on their approach to this year’s tournament.