Road to Dehradun (4)

After just the one day off for both teams, the series moved on to its fifth and final ODI on Sunday. Our supporting group was minus the intrepid pair Neil and Fiona, here on their holidays, but we were joined by three members of the Irish embassy in Delhi, Mairtin Cronin, Katie Daley and Gemma Kentish, who had flown up for the day to support the Irish team. A tremendous gesture on their part.

After the batting collapse of Friday all were hopeful for a turn round in fortunes. Perhaps a little surprisingly, the same XI was named by Ireland, whilst the Afghans again made changes this time five in number. They did however keep the core of Ashgar, Najib, Rashid, Nabi and Mujeed.

William won the toss and again elected to field. A six off the first ball from Tim Murtagh was met with the keeper coming up to the stumps after two deliveries. This immediately caused Shahzad to spoon a chance up to JCD at mid off. The catch being referred to the 3rd umpire took four minutes to decide, but James had clearly got his fingers under the ball, 6/1. Two sharp chances came and went before Andy Mc (again bowling tightly with prodigious turn and bounce) bowled Javed Ahmadi. Were things on the turn again?

A sharp bat pad chance was taken at leg slip by Balbo but was turned down by the umpire before Georgie produced two wickets in two balls to put Afghanistan on the back foot. 50/4 in 15th. But those defiant batsman Ashgar and Nabi were at the crease. They nurdled and defended with great care slowly turning round the situation from what was a perilous position. A close stumping call on Ashgar was soon followed by perhaps the Champagne moment of the series. Stirloís double stop on the fine leg boundary, was full of acrobatic determination a gymnast would be proud of!

But still the partnership continued, 100 up in the 32nd over, before Balbo spilled a difficult running catch off Ashgar. Were we going to let them off the hook again? Fortunately the partnership was broken when it had reached 75 with Stuey catching Nabi off Simi. Asghar by now was really feeling the effects of his shoulder injury from the last game and was batting one handed most of the time. It didnít stop him depositing a six over square leg, but it did when he skied JCD to Porty at mid on. William doesnít drop much if any, we were rid of him surely. Crickets a funny game, I would have bet the house on him under that catch but Asghar got another life.

Rashid was now with Ashgar and with the crowd at its largest in the series by far, they brought up the 200 in the 49th Over. With three balls to go Ashgar mysteriously pulled up with what looked like a hamstring problem. A cynic might be mistaken for thinking this was fortunate given he may not have got a fielder replacement for his shoulder injury. Off he went, retired for 82. Afghans closed on 216/6. Would Ashgar field? Would he have a replacement? A very fine all round bowling performance with 39 overs of spin used. Andy Mc (1-30) to the fore, JCD(1-46) and George(2-46) not far behind.

A very gettable target but Fridays nightmare is fresh in the memory. The missed chances though, had probably given them an extra 30 runs. Ashgar hasnít come back onto the field and Rashid is skipper. A good start was needed, when isnít it? Stirlo and Porty set about the task and proceeded steadily to a 50 partnership in 12 overs, hitting the bad balls to the fence in the process. Sadly the diplomats had missed this fight back as they needed to depart just before to get their flight!

Zahir Khan came on for his first bowl of the series with his faster ball chinamen. Porty was unfortunately beautifully beaten by Zahirs wrong un 57/1 in 13th. DLS score appears for the first time we are 34 ahead. Stirlo brings up a fine 50 in the 22nd and with Balbo brings up the teams 100 and their 50 partnership in the 23rd. under 100 to win with 9 wickets and 24.3 overs left. Surely this is going only one way!

Then Rashid returns to the attack and appeals for an LBW (again) on Stirlo. The Afghan umpire raises his finger (again), Stirlo is bemused. The replays show why, another LBW decision that would not have hit. Simi joins Balbo (still 37 ahead on DLS) and they stroke the ball around with ease and very few concerns bringing the 150 up in 35th. Balbo brings up a fine 50 in the 36th. Zahir returns to the attack and picks up Simiís wicket, another LBW, this time no arguments. 50 needed off 12, now 27 ahead on DLS when Kevin joins Balbo.

It's becoming nailbiting as the run rate slowly rises but always the right side of five an over, Two boundaries in 43rd over from Kevin off Zahir ease the tension a little and the 200 comes up in the 45th. Then disaster, Balbo is bowled by Mujeeb for a fine 68 in 46th, Kevin is joined by George. An outside edge from Kevin past slip runs away to the boundary, now only two to win. Nabi to bowl the 48th over and first ball he turns one through the gate of Georges outstretched Bat and pad. Stuey Poynter is next. Nabi brings the field up but strays towards leg and Stuey helps it on its way to the fine leg boundary. Ireland win by 5 wickets and square the series. What a result.

A hard-fought but in the end pretty even series. The Afghans were trying different players and permutations as they prepare for the World Cup, with the Irish concentrating on getting some positive results. The batting of Andy Balbirnie (deserved man of the series) and Paul Stirling stood out, but George Dockrellís improvement in the middle order is noteworthy. Tim and Boyd produced professional workmanlike seam where needed but the spin of Andy McBrine, James Cameron-Dow and George Dockrell were exceptional. Simi Singh when used was more than a 4th spinner.

Ross McCullum unfortunately returns to Europe after this match, but I understand we will be joined by the President, Aideen Rice, Ashley and Candy Balbirnie, Derek Dockrell, Mr and Mrs Ger Siggins and my wife Wendy for the test starting on Friday.

The omens and weather are looking very good for a fine competitive match.

Which side will prevail and make history?