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First match in Tri Series with Afghanistan and Scotland - playing each other twice. (Warm up matches for 2015 World Cup).

An unbroken 8th wicket stand of 52 between Andrew Balbirnie and Alex Cusack guided Ireland to a hard fought three wicket win against Afghanistan in Dubai.

Chasing what looked a modest victory target of 181, Ireland slumped to 129 for 7 and looked to be heading for defeat. Middlesex batsman Balbirnie has been the stand-out performer for Ireland during the winter season, and his good form continued as he stroked an unbeaten 31 to settle the Irish nerves.

Alex Cusack proved the perfect foil, guiding the Irish over the line in conjunction with Balbirnie. The Clontarf batsman's undefeated 26 included four boundaries, three of which came off successive Dawlat Zadran deliveries to tie the score.

Ed Joyce top scored with a stylish 51, sharing a stand of 44 with Niall O'Brien (22) after the early wickets of Paul Stirling (0), William Porterfield (7), and Gary Wilson (9). Kevin O'Brien impressed with a typically breezy 30 from 35 balls, including the only six of the Irish innings, and in the process overtook his captain William Porterfield to become Ireland's leading run scorer in ODI's (2144 to 2129).

However, O'Brien's dismissal, followed two balls later by John Mooney (0) had the Irish in deep trouble before Balbirnie and Cusack's salvage mission.

Earlier, George Dockrell had proved the Irish hero with the ball, claiming 4 for 35 to take his tally in ODI cricket to 50. John Mooney (2-36) had taken the early wickets of Usman Ghani and Afsar Zazai to put the Afghans on the back foot.

Javed Ahmadi starred with the bat for the Afghans, impressing with a fluent 81 from 89 deliveries (7 fours, 3 sixes), before playing on to Kevin O'Brien (1-27). Najibullah Zadran hit three sixes in an entertaining 45, but the disciplined Irish attack were able to keep the shackles on for the majority of the innings.

Paul Stirling, although wicketless, conceded just 13 runs in nine overs, while Craig Young (1-18), Alex Cusack (1-22) and Andrew Balbirnie (1-26) each picked up a wicket as Afghanistan were dismissed for 180 in 44.2 overs.

Ireland were due to play their second match of the Tri-series at the same venue on Monday 12 January against Scotland.

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(Cricket Ireland)