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Stirling powers Ireland to series win over Afghanistan

Paul Stirling's brilliant century inspired Ireland to a five-wicket win over Afghanistan in the series decider in Sharjah.

The 27 year-old dominated a largely nerveless run chase of 177 as the Boys In Green wrapped up the victory with 12 overs to spare.

The Middlesex batsman clubbed 11 fours and 4 sixes to reach his sixth ODI century from just 93 balls, the final 20 of which came in just four balls from the unfortunate Shapoor Zadran as Stirling raced from 81 to 101 with a series of audacious pulls, hooks and one impudent flat bat six over extra cover.

The Irish had lost skipper William Porterfield (4) cheaply, but Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie (35) played positively in a second wicket stand of 62.

Balbirnie was stumped coming down the track, and when Niall O'Brien (5) was trapped by Rashid shortly after, Afghanistan sensed an opening.

However Stirling continued to bat at his belligerent best, dominating a 4th wicket stand of 51 with Gary Wilson (11). He fell with just 9 needed, but two boundaries from Kevin O'Brien (10*) sealed a most emphatic win for the Irish to end the reign of coach John Bracewell on a positive note.

While Stirling will take most of the plaudits, in truth the win was set up by a tremendous display by the Irish bowling unit, backed up by a near faultless, committed display in the field.

Tim Murtagh (1-27) and Boyd Rankin (1-41) removed openers Javed Ahmadi (27) and Noor Ali (9) in quick succession, while Stirling (1-25) induced a rash stroke from skipper Ashgar Stanikzai.

George Dockrell (4-28) then swung the game decisively in Ireland's favour dismissing Shah, Nabi and Jamal in quick succession as the Afghans slumped from 102 for 3 to 109 for 6.

Whereas in the past their lower order has powered them out of trouble, it wasn't the case this time despite the best efforts of Rashid (44) as Barry McCarthy (3-32) kept up his happy wicket-taking knack as Afghanistan were dismissed for a below-par 177.

It was a clearly delighted Paul Stirling who collected $5000 for both the Man-of-the-Match and Player of the Series awards - his second in consecutive series against Afghanistan.

"It's a fantastic achievement by the team," said Stirling. "We went back and did our homework after the first game after facing Mujeeb and we showed great character to win the next two games.

"The bowlers all did their jobs and we backed it up in the field. It was a serious effort in testing conditions. We would have taken 178 to chase all day long.

"I've a good record against Afghanistan and that gives you confidence. I didn't dwell too long in the 90's so didn't have time to get nervous as the 100 approached. I was in a positive frame of mind and if the ball was there to be hit, I did!"

The win gives Ireland confidence going into the all-important World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe next March, and they are currently planning to return to the UAE next month for further warm-up matches.

David Townsend (Irish Independent)

Stirling and Dockrell lead Ireland to series win

Paul Stirling struck a commanding century to propel Ireland to a five-wicket victory over Afghanistan in Sharjah and give the Boys in Green a welcome 2-1 success in the best-of-three one-day international series.

Stirling has been Afghanistan's nemesis all year, scoring five half-centuries in seven ODIs before finally reaching a deserved hundred from 93 balls, with 15 boundaries, including four maximums, as Ireland chased down a victory target of 178 with 14 overs to spare.

Humbled in the first match by a stunning debut from spinner Mujeeb Zadran, the Boys in Green hauled themselves off the canvas to deliver a telling blow on the second match and in the final match of the series man-of-the-series Stirling had a passionate crowd of 5,000 heading for the exits well before the end.

The Belfast boy fell on 101 to an lbw decision reminiscent of the howler on 95 that cost him a century, and Ireland victory, in the second match of a series that Afghanistan won 3-2 in March. The overall score for 2017 between the two fiercest of rivals stands at 4-4. Last year it was 2-2.

All credit to the lads for coming back after the first game," captain William Porterfield said. "It was a great knock by Stirlo but the bowlers have to take a massive pat on the back too, for restricting them to 177. It's been another closely-fought series and it's good to come out on the winning side."

The decisive victory was set up by a sharp, disciplined performance in the field. George Dockrell, who also enjoyed a fine series, took 4-28, Barry McCarthy was in the wickets again with 3-32 and there was a victim apiece for Tim Murtagh, Boyd Rankin and Stirling.

In taking the series, Ireland also laid down a marker for the World Cup qualifiers in March. Prior to this week, perceived wisdom had Afghanistan at least joint favourites for that ten-team tournament and a waning Ireland only travelling to Zimbabwe to make up the numbers.

Stirling is clearly key to Ireland's hopes but incoming coach Graham Ford, who takes over from John Bracewell, will have been encouraged by the fight and pride shown by youngsters Dockrell, McCarthy and Andy Balbirnie who, after two failures, made an important 35 in yesterday's run chase.