Tim Murtagh Mounts an Irish Rescue Before Afghanistan Digs In
After bowling Ireland out for 172 in 60 overs, Afghanistan reached 90-2 in reply on day one of the one-off Test between five-day cricket’s newest sides, Afghanistan and Ireland.
After a sprightly start by Ireland, Afghanistan’s bowlers ripped through the tourist’s top order, who collapsed dramatically to 85-9 before an epic tenth-wicket partnership from Tim Murtagh (54 from 75 balls) and George Dockrell (39 from 100 balls) lifted the hosts to 172 against all odds.
Afghanistan quick Yamin Ahmadzai (3-41) and spin trio Rashid Khan (2-20), Mohammad Nabi (3-36) and Waqar Salamkheil (2-35) caused the Irish all sorts of problems, with Rashid conceding a measly 1.66 runs per over.
After Afghanistan’s reply got off to a steady start, spinner James Cameron-Dow made two vital breakthroughs to keep Afghanistan’s batsmen on their toes, removing the assertive Mohammad Shahzad after he struck six fours and a six on his way to 40.
If it was fitting that Ireland’s Test journey began against Pakistan, the team who sparked their ascent on that magical St. Patrick’s Day in the 2007 World Cup, it was equally fitting that their second saw them pitted against the side with whom their story and rise is inextricably linked, with both Ireland and Afghanistan being granted Test status in June 2017.
Ireland won the toss, but the rest of the morning didn’t go to plan. They embraced the occasion with adventure, early blows giving them impetus, but their attacking nature soon turned sour, losing five wickets for just 18 runs in just five overs.
While Afghanistan’s opening bowlers failed to keep things quiet – Paul Stirling struck an attacking 26, which included six boundaries – Afghanistan’s star duo Rashid and Nabi, delivered on cue. Before today, Rashid had claimed 75 international scalps against Ireland at an average of 12.56, and how they fared against him was likely to go some way to determining the outcome of the day and match.
Stirling nicked one behind off the bowling of Ahmadzai and the first scalp initiated a major collapse, with William Porterfield soon falling LBW to a peach from Nabi. Andrew Balbirnie (4) was bowled by Ahmadzai during the next over, who uprooted the batsman’s off-stump.
The wickets kept tumbling as Rashid produced a double strike in his first over; the leg-spinner enticed debutant James McCollum (4) to chop back onto his stumps before trapping Stuart Poynter in-front for a duck.
Both spinners were causing the Irish serious problems, getting the ball to spin and spit. Kevin O’Brien (12) was unable to read the degree of turn imparted by Nabi, who beat the inside edge before the umpire raised his finger. The seasoned all-rounder soon removed Stuart Thompson (3), who chipped a simple chance to Hashmatullah Shahidi at short-leg to leave the visitors reeling at 62-7.
Lunch didn’t bring good fortune for Ireland, with Andy McBrine (3) bowled by Salamkheil soon after the restart, who also dismissed James Cameron-Dow (9) LBW to make it 85-9. The Irish outlook looked bleak, with even the 100-mark looking far off, until veteran Murtagh played an incredible innings from No.11.
In the 41st over, Murtagh whipped one off his hips for three before a powerful blow down the ground off Nabi, while the gritty George Dockrell brought up Ireland’s hundred in the 44th. Five overs later, Nabi tossed one up in Murtagh's arc, who got down on one knee to slog-sweep over deep mid-wicket, becoming Ireland’s highest run-scorer in the innings in the process. Both were wisely still showing the unremitting Rashid respect, however.
The last-wicket partnership had propelled Ireland to 172 by the time Dockrell picked out Ikram Ali Khil at square-leg off the bowling of Ahmadzai. The duo had shared an 87-run stand to give the Irish something to bowl at.
The final session was a vital one for Afghanistan's batsmen, with Murtagh and his Irish teammates buoyed by their late-order exerts. It was a vital passage of play with both sides chasing their inaugural Test victory. The veteran grabbed the new ball and bowled with typical discipline, conceding just one run from his first six overs.
Cameron-Dow was the man who made the breakthrough, however, with the left-arm spinner trapping Ihsanullah in-front to make it 27-1. Fellow opener Mohammad Shahzad signalled his intent with a hefty blow over deep mid-wicket before tickling one down to fine leg.
A fantastic caught and bowled from Cameron-Dow saw off the dangerous Shahzad, who failed to get the desired elevation, with Thompson entering the attack and keeping things quiet.
SCORECARD IN BRIEF
Afghanistan v Ireland, one-off Test, 15 March 2019, Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Dehradun
Ireland 172 (60 overs; T Murtagh 54*, G Dockrell 39; Y Ahmadzai 3-41, M Nabi 3-36)
Afghanistan 90-2 (31 overs; M Shahzhad 40, J Cameron-Dow 2-35)
Afghanistan trail by 82 runs with eight wickets remaining in their first innings (End of Day One)
© Cricket World 2019