A DIFFERENT day but the same story. Paul Stirling hit another superb century for Ireland, but it was not enough to prevent a Rashid Khan-inspired Afghanistan from completing a 3-0 clean sweep of the World Cup Super League series in Abu Dhabi.
Stirling’s 12th ODI century – his fourth in the last six one-day internationals, a feat managed by only 10 other batsmen – had Ireland on course for a comeback victory but yet again he received no support and after his dismissal the rest of the batting folded tamely, the last three wickets falling without a run being scored.
On Sunday, when Stirling hit 128 in the second match, the second top score was 47; yesterday, while he was scoring a run-a-ball 118, with nine fours and six sixes, it was an inadequate 24. His team-mates hit only seven boundaries.
Paul has played superbly in the series,” said skipper Andrew Balbirnie afterwards. “You run out of superlatives for how well he is playing but no-one could get that big score to back him up which could have won us the match on Sunday and again today.
“We needed someone to dig in with him, get that 50 or 60, but it didn’t happen, hasn’t happened. We haven’t been up to our usual standards.”
Stirling, unsurprisingly named man of the series, was also the only batsman yesterday to tame Rashid who finished with four wickets, his best haul of the series, but yet again it was his batting, at No 9, which took the game away from Ireland.
After hitting 55 in the first match, he came to the wicket with Afghanistan on 163-7 in the 36th over. When he was finally dismissed by Josh Little 13 overs later, he had hit 48 from just 40 balls and Ireland were set at target of 267, two more than they had successfully chased before against their arch rivals.
How different it could have been if Craig Young had held a return catch when Rashid was on just eight, but the North Down opening bowler had already played his part in a whirlwind start to the innings, taking the first three wickets in three overs – the second was his 100th for Ireland - albeit at a cost of 32 runs.
Ireland made three changes with Little, Mark Adair and James McCollum coming in for Barry McCarthy, Gareth Delany and Kevin O’Brien, the latter dropped for only the second time since his debut season in 2006.
McCollum was dismissed for three but Stirling could take some responsibility for the wicket – his only mistake of the day- by not advising his opening partner to review the lbw decision; the replay showed the ball missing the stumps.
When Stirling reached 80 - out of exactly 100 - Ireland were in such a good place that he did not hit another boundary for 19 overs but, when he decided to break free with successive fours, he got an inside edge to the first ball of the next over, from Mujeeb Zadran, and played on.
There would be only one more boundary, from Simi Singh, and none in the last 10 overs as the Ireland innings not only ground to a halt but closed with 17 balls unused.
Hopes of automatic World Cup qualification always looked slender; they are less than slim now.