ANDY BALBIRNIE and Paul Stirling scored half-centuries to make a tricky run chase look simple in Dehradun yesterday as Ireland notched a five-wicket victory over hosts Afghanistan to claim a 2-2 draw in the one-day international series in north-east India.
The final match followed a familiar pattern with Afghanistan losing early wickets before captain Asghar Afghan and Mohammad Nabi mounted a recovery and then a flurry of late runs from Rashid Khan took the hosts to 216-6, as 50 came from the final four overs.
With the pitch taking prodigious spin and some bounce, the total looked beyond Ireland but Stirling and skipper William Porterfield got the reply off to the perfect start - watchful but productive - and with no wicket falling in the first powerplay, Ireland dared to dream.
Porterfield was bowled by a googly for 17 only for in-form Balbirnie to join Stirling in a partnership worth 81 from 17.4 overs that broke the back of the chase and would have taken the Boys in Green much closer to home but for another poor lbw decision.
Stirling had 70 from 88 balls, his 18th ODI half-century containing seven fours and two mighty sixes, when he played back to a leg-break from Rashid that the umpire decided was going to hit off-stump when replays showed it was clearly missing the timbers.
Balbirnie remained solid and continued to chip away, sensibly taking few risks against Rashid, and looked to be closing out the victory for the second time in three games when he was bowled through the gate by Mujeeb Rahman for 68 from 91 balls, with only 10 needed to win.
“Two-all in the end is probably a fair result,” Balbirnie said, after being named Player of the Series for his 215 runs at an average of 71.66, including a magnificent 145 not out.
“We 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.”
The experience of Kevin O’Brien who finished with 33 not out was enough to see Ireland over the line with 16 balls to spare and give the tourists momentum ahead of Friday’s first Test match between the two sides at the same venue.