Since being ordained as the 11th and 12th Test nations in June, much of the celebration around Afghanistan and Ireland's elevated status has been centered on the opportunity to play five-day cricket. Cricket Ireland hasn't held back at promoting their date with Pakistan at Malahide next May for their inaugural Test while the Afghanistan Cricket Board has been working to arrange their own Test debut, possibly against Zimbabwe early next year.
But for all the fanfare those occasions are expected to bring for their historical significance, there is a more pressing matter at hand for both countries: the 50-over World Cup Qualifier is scheduled for next March in Zimbabwe. It was previously an Associate-only affair, but now there will be four Full Members - Afghanistan, Ireland, West Indies and Zimbabwe - tussling with six Associates for two coveted berths in the showpiece event in England and Wales in 2019, thus highlighting how intensified the fight will be to secure a spot.
Afghanistan will have another limited-overs series against Zimbabwe in Sharjah next February ahead of the qualifier. But for Ireland, these may be the last three ODIs they get to play ahead of an extended winter break before heading to Zimbabwe in March. Having failed to beat a Full Member in ten attempts since besting Zimbabwe at Harare in October 2015, there's no better time for Ireland to turn around their struggles in the lead-up to the World Cup Qualifier.
And it should not be ignored that though its not their respective first Tests, there is a bit of history in this occasion since it'll be Afghanistan and Ireland's first ODI series as Test nations. Ireland's first match as a Full Member against a Full Member was slated to be in September against West Indies, but a soggy outfield in Belfast prevented that from happening. Instead, they'll be celebrating the occasion with their old sparring partner in a rivalry that has blossomed since they met in the final of the 2010 World T20 Qualifier.
Afghanistan LWWLL (completed matches, most recent first)
in the spotlight
Rashid Khan treated Ireland's batsmen like his personal voodoo-doll collection when the teams faced off in Greater Noida this past March, taking a series best of 16 wickets in the five ODIs, not to mention another nine in the three-match T20I series, and eight more in their Intercontinental Cup clash. He hasn't taken a wrong step in national colours for the rest of the year, bagging 7 for 18 in June against West Indies and then had back-to-back Man-of-the-Match performances in the I-Cup - against Hong Kong in October and last week against UAE.
Boyd Rankin spent the entire tour of Greater Noida on the sidelines due to injury and missed the entire home summer as well. But in two I-Cup matches against Netherlands and Scotland, he showcased his menace, taking 5 for 49 at Malahide in the first innings against Netherlands and a match haul of 6 for 84 last week against Scotland.
Spin sensation Mujeeb Zadran, only 16, arrives fresh from Bangladesh having made his BPL debut on Saturday for Comilla Victorians. Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai was coy when asked about Mujeeb's chances of making a debut with a squad already full of established spinners in Rashid, Mohammad Nabi and Amir Hamza. For squad balance, it would make sense to have Shapoor and Dawlat Zadran as pace options but Mujeeb's sharp rise since the Under-19 Asia Cup may make him hard to leave out. Gulbadin Naib may fill any support pace duties.
Afghanistan XI (possible): 1 Javed Ahmadi, 2 Noor Ali Zadran, 3 Rahmat Shah, 4 Asghar Stanikzai (capt), 5 Mohammad Nabi, 6 Gulbadin Naib, 7 Shafiqullah Shafaq (wk), 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Dawlat Zadran, 10 Amir Hamza, 11 Mujeeb Zadran/Shapoor Zadran
Niall O'Brien flew home from the UAE a few days ahead of their win against Scotland due to personal reasons but has joined the squad again, and he could feature in the line-up on Tuesday. Stuart Poynter was called up to fill O'Brien's spot in the squad while allrounder Simi Singh looks certain to build on his two ODI caps against New Zealand. After missing out during the home summer, legspinner Jacob Mulder may also see his first ODI action since March in a duel of the slow bowlers.
Ireland XI (possible): 1 William Porterfield (capt), 2 Paul Stirling, 3 Andy Balbirnie, 4 Stuart Poynter/Niall O'Brien, 5 Gary Wilson (wk), 6 Kevin O'Brien, 7 Simi Singh, 8 George Dockrell, 9 Boyd Rankin, 10 Jacob Mulder, 11 Tim Murtagh
Pitch and conditions
In the I-Cup match between Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea played here last week, Hong Kong captain Babar Hayat scored an unbeaten 214 while his left-right spin combo of Nadeem Ahmed and Ehsan Khan combined to take 17 PNG wickets. With small boundaries, there could be some fireworks but expect the spinners to profit. The forecast is for a moderate 25 degree celcius in the afternoon but may dip to 17 degrees celcius at night.
Stats and trivia
Kevin O'Brien needs one wicket to become the first Irish bowler to take 100 wickets in ODIs, while Nabi needs 58 runs to become the first Afghanistan player to score 2000 runs in ODIs.
Currently tied for second, Rashid Khan (36) needs ten wickets in the series to overtake Pakistan's Hasan Ali (45) for most ODI wickets in 2017.
"After Test status and Full Membership, this is our first time playing against each other in a full ODI series so there will definitely be more crowds and the matches will be fantastic. It means a lot for both sides."
Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai
"The series in March, he was probably the deciding factor between the two sides. In the games Afghanistan won, he performed really well. In the games we won, we managed to negate him to a large extent How we play him is gonna be key to this series."
William Porterfield on the threat posed by Rashid Khan