Ger Siggins (Irish Daily Star)
IRELAND stormed 21 points clear at the top of the Intercontinental Cup table last night after their battle with Afghanistan ended in a draw. But a stirring debut display by Stuart Thompson of Limavady gave them a sniff of victory before the visitors shut up shop and time ran out.
"Stu hit a great line and length from the bottom end", said Kevin O'Brien, who was standing in as captain for William Porterfield.
"It's the first time I've seen him play, he's athletic and very quick around the ground. He made the ball talk there for a while when the game was drifting. He beats the edge and got a couple of nicks and we held them. He has a big couple of months coming up."
Ireland batted on yesterday to extend their first innings lead to 168, but just couldn't get the Afghans out.
"They batted a lot better than the first innings", said O'Brien. "We knew they were going to put up a better fight and the wicket was always going to flatten out. It was a little bit disappointing not to push home the victory but we weren't too far away."
Ireland's usually impeccable fielding slipped a notch and a couple of crucial chances went a-begging. "We dropped two in first innings and two in the second that would have set us on our way, but that's cricket," the captain said.
Ireland resumed in the morning 42 ahead, but soon lost Alex Cusack for 38. Gary Wilson and Andrew White saw off the early spite in the pitch and put on a stand of 119 in 25 overs. White continued his extraordinary record in this event – he averages 65 – and Wilson made his highest first-class score for Ireland. Wilson was out for 70, and O'Brien immediately declared on 252-4 with White 62 not out.
The Afghan openers Javed Ahmadi and Karim Sadiq put on 106 for the first wicket as O'Brien tried eight different bowlers – but not himself – in a bid to make the breakthrough. Albert van der Merwe broke the stand thanks to a great catch by John Mooney which cost the North County man a dislocated thumb.
Thompson (3-51) and Max Sorensen (2-36) blew the middle order away but Ashgar Stanikzhai remained unbeaten on 51 as the clock beat Ireland's push for victory.