IN the end it came down to the last overs but while Afghanistan clubbed 26, including four sixes, Ireland could scramble only four singles and Ireland are still waiting for their first win against their closest rivals in India.
Ireland had actually done well to get so close after losing their way – yet again – with the introduction of Rashid Khan into the bowling attack. After 10 overs, the tourists were 26 runs ahead of Afghanistan’s total at the same stage but six overs later they were 13 behind – the hosts having hit 10 boundaries to Ireland’s one from those 36 balls.
To their credit, Simi Singh and George Dockrell took 15 off Rashid’s last over – the 19th – to give themselves a chance of levelling the three-match series but the experience of 32-year-old Shapoor Khan, bowling the last over, won the day.
Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie had, rightly, entrusted 20 year-old Josh Little with the last over of the Afghanistan innings. But after conceding only 17 runs from his first 19 balls, Najibullah Zadran and Gulbadin Naib each cleared the boundary twice from the left arm paceman’s last five balls.
Despite losing the toss, a superb six-over powerplay by the Ireland bowlers restricted Afghanistan to 34, albeit without taking a wicket and it would prove costly later as the world’s No 7 side plundered 108 from the last eight overs – and that included Little and Craig Young bowling the 18th and 19th overs for just eight runs!
Either side of it was mayhem with Asghar Afghan and Mohammad Nabi adding 74 for the third wicket in just five overs – and Ireland, having lost Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien by the first ball of the fifth over, could not respond in kind.
O’Brien, frustratingly, for the second successive game, was out to the last ball of an over he had already taken 16 from and Stirling was caught at deep square leg before he could get going.
When Gareth Delany followed in the seventh over, caught at long-on, Balbirnie and Harry Tector kept up with the required run-rate until Rashid came on, as he invariably does, in the 11th over.
The man of the match award went to Mujeeb who O’Brien and Tector both went after but the mystery spinner had the last laugh, claiming both wickets in his two most expensive overs.