Road to Dehradun (3)

Buoyed by the resplendent victory on Tuesday, the small gang of travelling supporters gathered at the Rajiv Ghandi stadium on Friday for the fourth ODI, in expectant and optimistic mood.

Our numbers were boosted by the arrival of Neil Horgan and Fiona Dunn from the south side of Dublin. They were on a five week holiday in Kerala, Southern India, when they saw that the Irish were playing so jumped on a couple of planes for a 48 hour round trip to support the lads.

What makes this a truly amazing show of patriotic support for the boys in green is that they have no links to any club back in Dublin. A wonderful gesture by them.

Regular tourist and supporter Kevin Woods from Fingal had also unexpectedly arrived and he brought with him the Cricket Ireland flags which were quickly tied onto the front of our seating area. It was great to have Kevin back with the group. Things were looking up again!

William won the toss and chose to field as there were reports of possible rain later in the day. The boys entered the field of play hoping they could continue from where they left off on Tuesday. They did not disappoint. A wonderful display of bowling and greatly improved fielding again had the Afghans wobbling at 81/6.

But Ashgar the skipper and Nabi remained at the crease. Think what you like but these two are very talented and determined cricketers, who immediately set about rebuilding the Afghan innings in a slow but thoughtful way. There were close calls against both batsman for LBW’s, but neither offered any chances. A fifty partnership was added before Ashgar was run out off a misfield by a great throw from George Dockrell.

Rashid entered the arena to the adulation of the Afghan supporters and calmly set about his role in support to Nabi. Both bringing up their half centuries and putting on a partnership of 86. Rashid was the last wicket to fall on 223 in the last over. 223 all out, we would have taken it at the start but from 81/6 there would have been hopes that the target could have been limited below 200.

That is not to say that there were not bowling heroes. James Cameron-Dow and Andy McBrine were the stand-outs, indeed all the spinners got turn and bounce to make life difficult. Boyd and Tim bowled cannily in conditions not so helpful to the seamers. Only five bowlers used.

Having chased own 256 on Tuesday, surely 224 was within our grasp. A good start was essential. William and Stirlo set about the chase in a steady calm manner until the skipper unleashed an array of flashing strokes to take three boundaries off an over from Aftab. 31 on the board in six overs, this momentum came to a sudden halt with an LBW decision against the skipper. He looked to be very unfortunate, there were definitely two noises at impact.

Still Balbo strode to the crease on the back of his century. Time to rebuild. A lunging push at Mujeeb’s faster ball only saw a return catch easily taken and saw Balbo perish after three balls. Even then, all was not lost. We had six batsman left who had scored fifties for Ireland, three of them with centuries. No sooner had that thought sunk in we were 3 for 3 in 3. Stirlo swept across a ball from Mujeeb and was stumped dragging his back leg. The third umpire took an eternity, surely there must be some doubt! It was not to be.

Even when Simi was joined by the no 5 bat, we still believed. Its ok said Kevin as his namesake came to the wicket. ‘I remember Bangalore, we could do with some of that here now’. They set about slowly rebuilding the innings, the ones and twos only interrupted by a couple of boundaries by Simi. Some showers started to appear and the Duckworth Lewis target appeared in the 17th for the first time in the match. It was not too bad we were only 17 behind the target. They had doubled the score by the time Simi was beaten playing across a wrong un from Rashid.

George joined Kevin, the last boundary having been in the 12th over. We were now 31 behind the rate. They proceeded to push and dab until George was beaten by a Naib slower ball. Even when Stuey, next in, cut a ball from Aftab onto his stumps and Andy Mc fell to a stunning one hand caught and bld from Rashid, we still believed, we still had hope. The run rate was just over six, we were over 60 behind the rate, but the rain had moved away. But Kevin was still there and our hopes were with him but his innings was ended shortly thereafter with Aftab claiming his third wicket.

The pressure on batsman as the run rate goes up and the wickets fall whilst the overs remaining dwindle must be a tremendous strain. A lovely drive from JCD shortly after Murtagh had set up the hat trick for Aftab, saw Ireland bring up the three figures on the scoreboard. Boyd and JCD putting on 18 before Boyd became another LBW victim, 114 all out.

There was anger, disappointment and frustration in the body language of the players at the end. They sportingly congratulated the Afghan side and thanked the officials but they would have hoped for better but they were outplayed particularly in the second innings of the match. They know the Afghans strengths and they know their weaknesses and they know now what they must do in the last ODI.

Even if this result and performance were disappointing for the supporters, I have no doubt the boys feel it much more than we possibly can. Yes we could have done so much more with the bat today and yes everyone will have their opinions on what went wrong but remember this is a good Afghan outfit and more importantly remember, we beat them only three days ago with the same XI.

The evening was spent at the Ramada in the company of Kevin Woods and Ian Callender. The match was dissected and the future discussed long into the evening, over a fine meal and beverages.

To sum up, reflect, consider and mull over what has transpired but please, we must never stop believing. The team deserves our continuing and full support and that’s what I am sure we will all be giving them. Come the day!! Roll on Sunday..