// LIVE BLOGGING // GLOBALSIGN SSL
Ireland and Afghanistan are set to play the first game of a three-match T20I series on Thursday, which will then be followed by a five-match ODI series and finally a one-off Test. TOM EDWARDS has for things to look out for across the three series...
Slowly but surely, Paul Stirling has managed to establish himself as one of the better T20 players currently plying their trade in the British Isles.
The 28-year-old finished the 2018 Vitality Blast as Middlesex’s leading run-scorer by just under 240 runs (that was ahead of his former countryman Eoin Morgan) and was seventh in the overall standings.
He was also his country’s leading run-scorer in T20I cricket across 2018, scoring 206 runs across eight matches at a strike rate of 149.27.
However, one thing Paul Stirling seems to be really good at, strangely enough, is losing. Using the T20 Player Index we can see that over the past three years he has won just 27.9 per cent of the 61 matches he has played.
This is the lowest percentage of any player who has played over 50 matches.
Paul Stirling has a win percentage of 29.7 over the past three years
One of the fears when Ireland got Test status was the fact that their team was aging. Players like Ed Joyce, Will Porterfield and Tim Murtagh who had been stalwarts for them during a period of strong success were getting old fast.
Joyce, along with Niall O’Brien, actually retired immediately after their maiden Test against Pakistan in 2018. While Porterfield is now 34, Murtagh is 37 and his new-ball bowling partner Boyd Rankin is 34.
These are the players that have got Ireland to the point where they received Test status, but it has been a long road. If the Irish are to sustain their Test status and continue to grow, it is vital that their younger players start to stand up as quickly as possible.
There are a possible eight Test debutants in the Ireland squad, and Irish cricket fans will be keen to see which players emerge as those who will keep the dream alive.
Speaking of Middlesex players, 17-year-old Afghan spin bowler Mujeeb ur Rahman, who has signed to play for the county in the 2019 Vitality Blast, and his more famous teammate Rashid Khan are definitely a pair to look out for during the three series.
The pair both performed well during the recent Big Bash, with Mujeeb taking 12 wickets at 23.41 for the Brisbane Heat, while Khan was the Adelaide Strikers main man again, taking 19 wickets at 18.10.
Wickets are one thing, but what really sets them apart is just how economical they are. Mujeeb had the best economy of any player who bowled more than 45 overs during the BBL with 6.04, in front of Rashid who finished with 6.14.
To put it into context, the next best was Cameron Boyce with 6.44, which is quite a way above both Rashid and Mujeeb.
Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman are the Afghan spin twins
The single Test the two nations will play at the end of the tour presents a brilliant opportunity for either side to register their first Test victory.
Both sides have, up to this point, only played one Test. Ireland lost to Pakistan in May 2018, while Afghanistan lost to India in June 2018.
Their respective performances contrasted quite starkly. Ireland lost by five wickets with Kevin O’Brien scoring his country’s first ever Test century, while Afghanistan were beaten by an innings and 262 runs.
It is very worth bearing in mind that Ireland were playing at home and Afghanistan were playing away to a very, very strong India side which featured the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
This match will be played in India, so conditions should favour the spin of the aforementioned Khan and Mujeeb, so it’s probably best to ignore their previous Test performance.
Ireland will be hoping their seemingly superior batting is able to counter Afghanistan's spin duo.