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Cricket news - Of Afghanistan's blueprint and Ireland's rut

Mohammad Shahzad has an explosive opener in Hazratullah Zazai now, to match him stroke for stroke.

A modern internet phenomenon called the meme has seen several renditions of the project partners stereotype - that one partner does the lion's share of the work, while the other cooler and more laid-back partner takes it easy. Cricket is essentially a sport that consists of two such partners, only a tad more convoluted - the Siamese twin variation, if you will. And Afghanistan have been a team, right from their introduction to the international scene, that relies heavily on one particular metaphorical project partner. Any guesses who they might be?

It is no secret that the spinners have played a pivotal role in the rise of Afghanistan. Rashid Lhan and Mujeeb ur Rahman, two of the bowlers who have led the revolution, have a combined age of 37; and yet, they continue to baffle the world with their precocious, unprecedented consistency. The batting, on the other hand, has been paying the minimum amount due on their credit card for a long time now. The spinners take the opposition's batting down, and the batsmen struggle through the chase to crawl to a narrow win, or the batsmen put something mildly respectable up on the board, and hope for a spin miracle once again.

The problem is, at some point, spin will fail. Indubitably.

And the trend continued in Dehradun on February 28 in the first ODI. It may not always click for them, though, given that Afghanistan are playing their first World Cup as a Test nation in a few months. And when it comes to the World Cup, it's a game of momentum. One loss, and things may spiral downwards. One loophole, and the opposition will ravage through it. Because international cricket is ruthless, and a one-dimensional game simply cannot be sustained for long enough. Bottom line, Afghanistan need to strengthen their batting.

Mohammad Shahzad has an explosive opener in Hazratullah Zazai now, to match him stroke for stroke. And yet, in what should have been a comfortable run-chase of 162, Afghanistan's No. 7 had to come out and bat. That, right there, is the problem with their batting: there's no big hundred in most of their innings, and if there is, it is a lone effort - such as Mohammad Shahzad's one-man show in the tied game against India during the 2018 Asia Cup. Constructing the batting in an ODI innings, pacing it optimally, is certainly an art. You can overdo caution, like South Africa recently did against Pakistan (Amla's hundred), or you could mess it up royally even towards the end of an innings, like the Windies did against England a few nights ago. It is something, that evolves over generations of cricket until it reaches the international standard. Through no fault of their own, and certainly not for lack of trying, Afghanistan isn't quite there yet with the batting.

Ireland, on the other hand, have had a forlorn tour of India. They may have been homesick after the T20 series, but they were simply annihilated by the ruthless Afghan spin attack a couple of nights ago in Dehradun. Five single-digit scores in the top 7 says something about the fragility of the Irish batting line-up. In stark contrast to the T20I series though, their bowling has certainly looked far better, and seems to be more suited to the longer format. The experienced trio of Tim Murtagh, Boyd Rankin, and George Dockrell, along with Simi Singh, who was simply magnificent the other day, conceding less than 2 runs an over in his quota.

Their batting, however, has been absolutely appalling, barring Paul Stirling at the top of the order. Dockrell, their number 8, had to come in at 69 for 6 and collaborate with Stirling for a 76-run partnership to potentially avoid a sub-100 score. The Irish batting had this problem then, and they have it now: they are simply unable to pick Rashid and Mujeeb out of the hand, and are therefore struggling to play them. Already 4-0 down in the tour, and 1-0 down in the series, it will take something remarkable for Ireland to redeem themselves. Working on their game against spin comes after that. The unrelenting fatigue and heartbreak of international cricket can hit you like a cannon ball, with as much negative energy in a loss, as there is euphoria in victory. Ireland are only learning about this now.

When: March 2, 2019; 1:00PM local time

Where: RajIv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Dehradun, Uttarakhand

What to expect: A cloudy and humid day on the cards in Dehradun, with a 20% chance of rain. The pitch is likely to remain the same, hopefully holding well together, and most likely to assist the spinners once again. However, in the evening, the ball is likely to get harder to grip, due to the humidity and dew. Expect the spinners to rule in the first half, though.

Team News:

Afghanistan: Afghanistan are likely to go ahead with the same eleven, given that they sustained no injuries in the previous game. Perhaps they could tinker around with the batting line-up, given that they struggled in a relatively straightforward chase in the last game.

Probable XI: Asghar Afghan (c), Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Rashid Khan, Hazratullah Zazai, Mujeeb Ur Rahman

Ireland: The million-dollar question: What will Ireland's XI be, going into the second ODI? They have no injury concerns either, but what do you do, when only two of your XI have managed to get past 10 in an ODI? You make some changes. A major overhaul. The bowling, on the other hand, has been solid and perhaps the silver lining in their loss in the first ODI. Expect one of those in the crucial second ODI, as Ireland attempt to resurrect themselves. Their playing XI is anyone's bet.

Squad: Paul Stirling, William Porterfield(c), Kevin O Brien, Stuart Poynter(w), Andrew Balbirnie, Lorcan Tucker, George Dockrell, Simi Singh, Boyd Rankin, Peter Chase, Tim Murtagh, Barry McCarthy, Andy McBrine, James McCollum, James Cameron-Dow, Stuart Thompson

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