Stirling and Balbirnie lead Ireland to victory to level ODI 2-2 with Afghanistan

Ireland’s spinners combined to restrict Afghanistan to 216-6 in the final ODI at Dehradun, before half-centuries from Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie ensured their side a share of the series’ spoils.

Match Summary

Afghanistan v Ireland, One-Day International, 5 March 2019, Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Dehradun

Afghanistan 216-6 (50 overs; A Afghan 82; G Dockrell 2-46, A McBrine 1-30)

Ireland 219-5 (47.2 overs; P Stirling 70, A Balbirnie 68; Z Khan 2-55)

Result - Ireland won by five wickets. Series 2-2.

Scorecard

Ireland captain William Porterfield won the toss and elected to field against a much-changed Afghanistan, and though the recalled Mohammad Shahzad struck the very first ball of the game for six over long-on, Tim Murtagh hit back three deliveries later, having the wicketkeeper caught at mid-off.

While Boyd Rankin took the new ball from the other end, between them Ireland’s two seamers were tasked with bowling just 11 overs, with the spin quartet of Andy McBrine, George Dockrell, James Cameron-Dow, and Simi Singh combining well to deliver the rest.

It was spin that brought the end of the second-wicket partnership between Javed Ahmadi and Rahmat Shah, who had taken Afghanistan out of the Powerplay without further loss. McBrine, who had conceded just three runs off his first two overs, bowled Ahmadi with the third delivery of his third, and had a huge caught-behind appeal turned down next ball as well.

Dockrell would go one better a few overs later, removing Rahmat Shah and Samiullah Shinwari in consecutive balls to leave Afghanistan 50-4. The former had been becalmed in moving to 11 off 40, then pulled a long-hop for six to seemingly get himself going, before mis-timing a cut shot which looped to Stirling at point, while the latter attempted to drive his first delivery only to toe-end an easy chance to McBrine at cover.

Dockrell was a whisker away from a hat-trick as Mohammad Nabi played and missed at his first ball, before the Afghan all-rounder helped his captain Asghar Afghan put together a stabilising stand. Only one boundary came in the next 10 overs as the home side crawled to 77-4, and though Afghan struck consecutive balls for four and six came in the 26th over, another six boundary-less overs followed.

The re-introduction of Murtagh saw another run-scoring spurt, this time via a lofted six over long-on from Nabi and a slower bouncer pulled to fine leg by Afghan, but as Porterfield reverted to spin, so the runs dried up again. Finally, in the 36th over, the pressure told, Nabi attempting to force Singh off the back foot and only succeeding in edging behind.

Najibullah Zadran came and went for seven, Cameron-Dow extracting a little extra bounce and Stuart Poynter snaffling the deflection excellently behind the stumps.

At that stage, the hosts were 143-6 in the 41st over, and Ireland might have hoped to keep them under 200. Instead, a 76-run seventh-wicket stand wrested back momentum.

Fifty-six runs were plundered from the last five overs of the innings, and 32 from the final two, as the pair attempted to match each other stroke for stroke, and though Afghan was forced to retire hurt in the final over with a hamstring injury for an excellent 82, his side went into the break with their tails up.

It meant Stirling and Porterfield’s opening partnership would be crucial, and the pair duly added a half-century to settle Irish nerves. The former was the more aggressive, striking his second ball for four after Porterfield had played out Mujeeb Ur Rahman for a maiden to start the reply, and struck a six to end the Powerplay, smashing Nabi over long-on.

Porterfield was bowled not long after by a googly from debutant Zahir Khan, but that only brought the in-form Balbirnie to the crease, and his half-century broke the back of the chase.

He played sensibly, mostly content to tuck singles, though a glorious cover drive/cut shot one two off Rashid showed what he was capable of. He and Stirling took Ireland to the 30-over mark still one wicket down, and a slog-swept six from Stirling seemed to only emphasise their control. Instead, it heralded his unlucky downfall, as Rashid pinned him LBW in the next over, although replays showed he was struck outside the line and could consider his demise unfortunate.

Singh added 13 and Balbirnie passed 50 to keep Ireland going, before the former became debutant Zahir’s second wicket of the day, also deceived by a googly and given LBW.

Balbirnie and Kevin O’Brien carried on past 200, and though Ireland suffered something of a late wobble – Balbirnie dismissed for 68 and Dockrell for a golden duck – Poynter tickled his first ball for four to put the seal on an emphatic victory and confirm that Ireland and Afghanistan shared the series.

The series ends 2-2, with Andy Balbirnie named Player of the Series.

The two sides now have four days break before the Test match begins on Friday.

Quotes

Ireland captain William Porterfield at the end of match presentation said:

“All credit to the lads, it can be a quick turn around with one day between the games. To win a toss, restrict them again and then knock them off is all credit first of all to the bowlers, but also to the batters how they went about it today after the disappointment of a few days ago. We’ll have a day off tomorrow, then the red balls will come out and we’ll it the ground running for the Test. It’s something we’re really looking forward to."

Asked how the squad adapted to the “alien conditions” of India, he said:

 "We had a few weeks build up, and the lads in Oman played well. We've actually been out here a lot, and we've been to Sharjah and places like that, so the lads knew exactly what to expect. We [Ireland and Afghanistan] also play each other quite a lot, so we know what to expect from both sides.”

Andrew Balbirnie, collecting his Player of the Series award for scoring 215 runs at an average of 71.66, said:

“All the batters are very aware of how good their spinners are and the threats they have. Our view is if you have a bad day against them it’s not the end of the world, you just go back and look at how you can play them better and go out and do that. I was fortunate enough to do that - two low scores and two decent knocks - but more importantly managing to get us over the line, maybe not today but by and large."

Asked what we did differently to other batters in the squad, he said:

"I wouldn't say I did anything differently, I just knew my game. I said after the last match we had two days between where we watched a lot of footage of their bowlers and how we could look to score from them, and I think everyone had that sort of intent going into bat. Two-all in the end is probably a fair result.”

Afghanistan - Mohammad Shahzad(wk), Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Afghan(c), Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Zahir Khan, Shapoor Zadran

Ireland - William Porterfield(c), Paul Stirling, Andrew Balbirnie, Simi Singh, Kevin O'Brien, George Dockrell, Stuart Poynter(wk), Andy McBrine, James Cameron-Dow, Tim Murtagh, Boyd Rankin

©Cricket World 2019