It took only one ball of the Afghanistan innings to tell everyone that the second one-day international would be a different challenge for the Ireland team which had won the first game so convincingly just 48 hours earlier.
Only eight runs came off the first four overs on Sunday, but it took Mohammad Shahzad — who had come down the pitch in attacking mode to Tim Murtagh’s opening delivery — only four balls to match that tally on Tuesday.
This was an Afghanistan side, in their last competitive match before their World Cup opener against Australia on Saturday week, which was hurting. They knew they were better than Ireland and, not for the first time this summer, the Ireland bowlers had no answer.
Ireland head coach Graham Ford said: “Yesterday was very disappointing. We spoke about the importance of starting well but we started poorly — 25 off three overs isn’t the tone you want to set — and not a lot went right for the rest of the day.
“It’s hard to explain why but it’s disappointing to end this mini-session with a poor performance. Although we didn’t get any wins against England or in the Tri-Series against West Indies and Bangladesh, there were a lot of bright moments which excited me and some players showed they could perform against the big teams, which is encouraging going forward.”
The instant hit was Mark Adair, who got his chance against England because of a freak injury to Stuart Thompson and hit a quick 32 against the World Cup favourites while also taking the new ball.
“There’s a lot of talent there and I’m sure he can get a lot better,” added the coach. “Mark has a lot of important ingredients and adds balance to our team, performing in both departments. It’s definitely nice to see him come through as well as he has.”
In contrast, James McCollum has struggled at the top of the order, coming in for his second ODI against West Indies and scoring just 17 runs in four games.
“James was unlucky, he got a few good deliveries and that happens as an opening batter, plus the additional pressure of playing at this level,” said Ford.
“But the fact he got 100 against Bangladesh for the Wolves side showed he has the quality to play at this level and I’m sure he will get back to scoring big runs.”
The head coach also confirmed that Barry McCarthy was chosen ahead of Tyrone Kane for Tuesday’s game purely for consistency, having been chosen in the original squad, while Kane was brought in as cover following an injury to Josh Little. But, moving forward, Ford says he is excited by having three all-rounders available to him.
He said: “Like Adair, Tyrone bowls with control and is a very handy batter and is very good in the field. It’s nice to know we have two all-rounder-type cricketers, along with Thommo (Stuart Thompson), and you look at England and why they have had so much success, because they have so many all-rounders, it’s good to know we have got some younger all-rounders who are starting to show they can perform at this level.”
When you consider the names that were unavailable or didn’t make the 15 involved in the first six games of the season — James Cameron-Dow, Peter Chase, James Shannon, Simi Singh, Stuart Poynter and Thompson — there is plenty of confidence in the camp that Ireland are once again on an upward curve.
“You get a real sense the top 20 or so players are desperate to improve their cricket, working flat out, motivated by the fact there is so much international cricket ahead,” said Ford.
“A lot of them are showing improvement and I’m sure we will see more progress as we go along.”