Ireland came up just 17 runs short of victory in the first of three crucial World Super League ODI’s against Afghanistan.

Despite a spirited run chase by the Ireland batsmen led by Lorcan Tucker with an innings of 83 off 96 deliveries which included 3 sixes and 3 fours. Paul Stirling and Curtis Campher each contributed 39 while Harry Tector with 28 and Simi Singh, a quickfire 23, continued to give Ireland hope.

However, the game was won and lost because of missed chances by Ireland in the field and significantly better power hitting by the Afghanistan batsmen.
Rahmanullah Gurbaz, on his ODI debut, scored a run a ball 127 which contained no less than 9 massive sixes and 8 fours.
He is only the sixteenth player to achieve that feat in ODI’s and he is the first to do it for Afghanistan. But he scored 108 runs more than he should have, as Tucker dropped a straightforward catch off Barry McCarthy when the centurion was on just 19.

Thanks to a superb spell of bowling by Andy McBrine, whose 5-29 was only the ninth five wicket haul in Ireland’s ODI history, Afghanistan lost seven wickets for 88 runs. He enticed Gurbaz’s opening partner, Javed Ahmadi to go for the maximum but Singh pouched the catch on the mid-wicket boundary to end the partnership on 120. His next four victims only mustered 14 runs between them as he got significant turn on a used wicket with three falling to catches by Kevin O’Brien at leg gully.

It was at this point that Rashid Khan came in with Afghanistan on 208-7 and just 8 and a half overs left. Twenty overs earlier they had looked on target for a formidable target of at least three hundred. When he was on just 5, he cut McCarthy straight to point and set off for a run but was sent back and looked certain to be run out. Inexplicably, Tector, who is usually a gun fielder, botched his throw to Tucker, Rashid survived and went on to make Ireland pay a heavy price.
His 55 laden with 5 sixes turned the match but again, when on 38, he survived another regulation catch to Tucker which cost another 17 runs, the exact margin by which Ireland came up short.

Apart from the magnificent McBrine, Singh again bowled well with figures of 1-45 and O’Brien conceded just 19 runs from five overs. However, the three main seamers had an exceedingly difficult day, going for 148 runs from 19 overs. Campher had his first bad day with the ball, his three overs costing 39 runs. McCarthy yet again was used as the death bowler and again suffered by bowling either too short or dropping the ball perfectly in the slot for Rashid with his final two overs costing 28 runs.
Craig Young has not looked like the bowler who caused England so many problems last summer and once again failed to find his line and length on too many occasions.
New bowling coach Stuart Barnes has a major job to do between now and Sunday sorting out the seam attack. Even allowing for two of the UAE matches falling victim to Covid 19, there is no real excuses for failing to get the basics right.
There now must be a question over Gareth Delany’s place in the side. It is true that he got some quick runs at the end of both innings against UAE, but he seems to be missing the confidence of his T20I performances. He does not have sufficient control with the ball to be regarded as a front-line spinner at this point. The dilemma is, should a specialist batsman such as James McCollum be brought back in with O’Brien dropping down the order to replace Delany or give the Leinster man one more shot.
Given the performances of the two off spinners Ireland must wish they had another spinner in the squad but unfortunately, they do not, although if Delany were to be omitted then Tector could be entrusted with a few overs.
Tucker’s fine innings compensated in part for his errors with the gloves. As it is highly unlikely that the selectors are going to throw rookie Neil Rock into the fray it is vital that Tucker works on his technique and confidence with the gloves over the next couple of days.
It is unfortunate that Niall O’Brien is precluded by Covid regulations from spending some quality time with Tucker before Sunday. If he cannot do it face to face perhaps the management could hook them up by zoom or another video app.

At least today, the presence of DRS, saved Ireland on three occasions, twice when they had LBW decisions against them overturned. The other was a bizarre decision when Afghanistan skipper, Asghar Afghan, was given not out when O’Brien took a catch of McBrine.
On review there was a clear spike on the glove and the TV umpire upheld the on-field decision forgetting that the ball was caught and he had only been concerned with LBW. Fortunately, that was corrected, although by whom is unclear.

Ireland know that this is a game that they should have won and upping their performance by a few percent will make all the difference. They handled the much-vaunted Afghanistan spin trio well today and if they can add a few more big hits (17 sixes to 4 is a huge difference) then there is no reason that they should not win on Sunday.