YOU just never know what you are going to get from this Ireland side. They followed their worst batting performance of the tour with one of the best for a five-wicket win which left the five-match series against Afghanistan all square at 2-2 with one abandoned.
In home conditions for the Afghans and just three months out from the World Cup, it was Ireland who can take most satisfaction from the series although it still does not compensate for the one-off defeat in Harare last year, which ended Ireland’s interest in this summer’s global event.
Frustratingly, Ireland chose the same team for the third game in a row but while the end result justified the selection it needed half centuries from two of the names which were never in doubt, Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie, to knock off the majority of the 217 runs with 16 balls to spare.
Stirling received a howler of a leg before decision to cut short his innings on 70 and Balbirnie, much to his own disgust, was bowled by Mujeeb Zadran’s last delivery, just 10 short of the winning post.
But Kevin O’Brien was still there and his unbeaten 33 ensured against any late panic, although it was Stuart Poynter who had the honour of hitting the winning boundary, the ball after George Dockrell had been dismissed first ball for the first time in an ODI.
The Afghanistan innings followed a familiar pattern – when does it not against Ireland? – the loss of early wickets followed by a middle-order recovery. This time Tim Murtagh, playing his 50th ODI, Andy McBrine and George Dockrell reduced the ‘home side’ to 50-4 before a 76 runs partnership between captain Asghar Afghan and and Mohammad Nabi and then, more annoyingly, a seventh wicket stand of 65 between Asghar and Rashid Khan before the former decided to retire hurt in the middle of the last over.
Afghan, who was surprisingly named man of the match for his 82, had been dropped twice in the 30s, the second, almost unbelievably, by William Porterfield, waiting underneath a skyer, but feeling the effects of the injury he suffered when run out in the last game, his early departure ensured he did not have to field for the second game in a row.
In all Ireland dropped four catches, with Murtagh, Boyd Rankin, who shared the new ball, Simi Singh and James Cameron-Dow the unlucky bowlers although Rankin had only himself to blame as he put down a return catch. In all they cost 77 runs, so it was again huge credit to the bowlers for restricting Afghanistan to 216-6, although their ‘death bowling’ remains a big worry; 50 came off the last four overs as Porterfield this time stuck with his slow bowlers leaving Rankin with five overs unbowled.
Afghanistan, still trying to find the perfect side for the World Cup, made five changes from their 109 runs victory on Friday and gave a debut to (not so slow) left arm chinaman bowler Zahir Khan and he broke the opening partnership – Ireland’s best against the Afghans since Sharjah 15 months ago - in his first over.
Indeed it was his first ball to Porterfield, a googly, which beat the captain all ends up. In the same over, Stirling had passed 3,500 ODI runs – only Porterfield has scored more – with his seventh boundary but he followed it with 18 consecutive singles as he and Balbirnie cleverly rotated the strike and went deep into the chase.
Rashid was given Stirling’s wicket, despite him being struck outside the line, the world’s No 1 slow bowler’s 200th international wicket, but by then Ireland were in control and this time they made no mistake getting the right result.