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Nick Royle (Times Ireland)

Ireland horror run continues

When Asghar Afghan, the Afghanistan captain, dropped on one knee to slog sweep the ball over square leg for yet another six, the single, swear-word response from George Dockrell, the Ireland bowler, could clearly be heard on the stump microphone.

It was one of 11 sixes the Afghans hit in their 16-run rain-affected first T20 international victory over Ireland at Bready.

And Dockrell's curse word perfectly sums up Ireland's recent record against Afghanistan in T20 cricket.

Afghanistan posted 160-7 from their 18 overs, then limited Ireland to 144-9.

Speaking ahead of the series, Phil Simmons, the Afghanistan head coach, insisted the difference between his side, ranked eighth in the world, and Ireland, ranked 17th, was "not as big as some people say it is".

But Ireland have now lost their last six T20 matches against Afghanistan, with their last victory coming in November 2013.

Gary Wilson, the Ireland captain, won the toss and put Afghanistan into bat, perhaps reasoning the new ball would swing and seam off the green-tinged pitch under leaden-grey skies.

That was the plan. But Hazratullah Zazai, the Afghanistan opening batsman making just his second T20 international appearance, soon put paid to those hopes.

The 20-year-old hit Afghanistan's fastest T20 half-century, slamming six sixes and eight fours in a 33-ball 74, with Peter Chase and Tyrone Kane, the Ireland seam bowlers, taking the brunt of the punishment.

When Asghar swept Dockrell for the six at the end of the 14th over, Afghanistan were 140-2 and on target for a score of at least 180.

But the Ireland bowlers finally found their line and length with Josh Little, the 18-year-old Pembroke and Leinster Lightning fast bowler, taking the wickets of Najibullah Zadran and Ashgar in the 16th over to give his side a lifeline.

Kane and Chase also chipped in as Ireland's seamers took five wickets for just 10 runs in the final three overs of the Afghanistan innings.

The Ireland players left the pitch at the halfway stage with smiles on their faces, perhaps thinking the momentum had tilted slightly in their favour.

But so much would depend on Paul Stirling, the Ireland opener who was the top run scorer for Middlesex in this season's Vitality Blast T20 competition.

But when he was out, brilliantly caught one-handed by a leaping Aftab Alam on the square leg boundary for 27, Ireland's hopes went with him.

The catch was one for the coaching showreel for former Ireland World Cup star John Mooney, the Afghanistan fielding coach, who has measurably improved his side's standards in the field during his eight months in the role.

Wilson, Simi Singh and George Dockrell all scored quickly down the order, but Ireland were always struggling to keep up with the required rate, and Rashid Khan, the world No 1 bowler in T20 cricket, took two wickets in the final over to wrap up the victory.

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