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Ireland 210 (Stirling 71, Porterfield 53, Aftab 3-28, Dawlat 3-35) beat Afghanistan 138 (Asghar 29, Nabi 27, Adair 4-19, Murtagh 2-12) by 72 runs

World Cup-bound Afghanistan were tripped up by Ireland, who made excellent use of cold and blustery conditions in Belfast to defend a modest 210 in style.

First, William Porterfield and Paul Stirling added 99 for the third wicket to lend sheen to an otherwise ordinary batting display. Then, Tim Murtagh’s robotic wicket-to-wicket lines nipped out Mohammad Shahzad and Rahmat Shah to expose the middle order early. It helped that offspinner Andy McBrine kept things tight to finish with outstanding figures of 0 for 17 off 10 overs.

Former captains Mohammad Nabi and Asghar Afghan counterattacked with Afghanistan tottering at 40 for 4 in the 21st over. The pair doubled the score in a five-over passage after that to put the pressure back on Ireland, but the hosts weren’t to be denied as Afghanistan were eventually bowled out for 138 in the 36th over, with medium-pacer Mark Adair finishing with career-best 4 for 19. The collapse was so steep later on that Murtagh wasn’t even needed to build on his 2 for 12 off six overs.

As convincing as the result seemed, it wasn’t as if Ireland sailed smoothly all along in the second innings. The game seemed to be tilting Afghanistan’s way as Boyd Rankin, Ireland’s most experienced bowler, started poorly after being introduced in the 23rd over. He leaked three boundaries and struggled with a leg-side line to concede 19 off his first two overs. Porterfield could’ve taken him off, but persisted with him and Ireland reaped the rewards soon after.

First, a lifter from Rankin rapped Nabi on his right index finger as he tried to fend a delivery. This resulted in a lapse in concentration and perhaps the need to hit out as Nabi fell in the next over to Kevin O’Brien to stall Afghanistan’s recovery.

In his fifth over, he truly left his mark in the game by dismissing the well-set Asghar Afghan for 29 to leave Afghanistan at 104 for 6 in the 31st over. This wicket came on the back of a key moment, when Gulbadin Naib, the captain, survived a close run-out appeal after George Dockrell’s underarm flick from midwicket at the striker’s end couldn’t be referred to the third umpire because of the absence of technology.

As it turned out, Ireland didn’t have to rue the miss, as Afghanistan’s lower order kept gifting wickets away in an attempt to hit their way out of trouble. Rashid Khan got the dressing room briefly interested by tonking O’Brien for two huge sixes, but fell soon after to a miscue to effectively end Afghanistan’s hopes.

An Ireland victory seemed unlikely for most parts of the first half. They were put in to bat and had to deal with relentless pressure from Afghanistan’s pacers first, before their spin trio of Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Rashid and Nabi took over. From 35 for 2, Porterfield and Stirling led a superb revival with sensible cricket, milking runs and not looking to over-hit the ball. In the process, they did let a few boundary balls slip up, but held their own to launch a comeback.

Stirling looked in control, though, building on from the 130 he made against Bangladesh only four days ago, by using his long stride to smother Rashid’s googlies. He swept well and picked him comfortably off the pitch. This confidence allowed Ireland to chug along with Porterfield playing himself in to make a second successive half-century after a barren run over the last 12 months. Once the stand ended, Afghanistan hit back as Ireland lost 7 for 70 to end with a score Porterfield later felt was “30 or 40 below par.”

However, Murtagh and Adair kept things tight, as Afghanistan managed just two boundaries in the first 16 overs. Shahzad was denied any width he loves to cut and pull, and he was soon consumed by the pressure of dot balls, falling on the back of successive maiden overs.

Hazratullah Zazai, who has the reputation of being a biffer that even has him titled ‘Afghanistan’s Chris Gayle’, scratched around for 14 off 40 balls before being done in by Adair’s length. Between overs 9 and 12, Ireland conceded just one single to pile up the pressure on the visitors. This led to the downfall of both Zazai and Hashmatullah Shahidi. Things could’ve yet turned pear-shaped for Ireland, but their discipline and use of conditions helped them secure their first win of their home summer.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo


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