PAUL Stirling could hold the key to an Ireland success in their World Cup Super League games against Afghanistan over the next six days, such is his record in one-day internationals against their Full Member rivals.
Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie has already described Stirling as the team’s best batsman, and over the last few years his consistency against the Afghans has been remarkable.

It started in the 2017 five-match series in India when he had successive scores of 68, 95 and 99 before finishing the series with an average of 68 and he was also man of the series in the only previous games between the teams in the UAE at the end of that year, with innings of 82 and 101 and Ireland came from behind to win the three-match series.

Ironically, he ‘failed’, in home conditions at Stormont in 2018, averaging just 17 in the three matches, but he was back in form on Ireland’s return to India the following year with an 89 and a 70 in the first and last matches of the series.

His last two ODI innings against Afghanistan were at Stormont in 2019, hitting 71 and 50 in the middle of a spell of six successive half-centuries for Ireland.

And as Balbirnie said in this week’s press conference, it is not just on the field that his vice-captain has a vital role.

“Paul is hugely important, he is our best batsman and sets the tone up top (opening the batting). He has been doing it for 10-12 years since he got his chance in the Irish team and the younger lads look up to him for inspiration and knowledge because he has done it all round the world,” he said.“And it’s not just on the pitch with his runs but his wisdom off the pitch.”

It is not coincidence that in that series in Sharjah just over three years ago he was dismissed for five in the first match and Ireland were bowled out for 100. In the second match, he top scored in Ireland’s total of 271 for nine and then effectively won the series with his century – he was out just eight runs short of the winning post - as Ireland chased down 178 for the loss of five wickets in the third game.

It was announced yesterday that all three games - the remaining two are on Sunday and Tuesday – will start at 10am (6am GMT) because of the risk of morning fog which delayed the warm-up game between the teams last Saturday.