Balbirnie sweeps Ireland to against the odds victory
ANDY BALBIRNIE struck a stunning unbeaten century in Dehradun yesterday to steer Ireland to a superb four-wicket victory over Afghanistan that levelled the one-day international series at 1-1 with two matches to play.
In probably the best ODI innings for Ireland since Kevin O'Brien's epic against England at the 2011 World Cup, Balbirnie hit eight sixes and as many fours to finish on 145 not out from 136 balls as he swept the Boys in Green across the line with an over to spare.
Chasing down the hosts' 256-8, Ireland slipped to 29-3 and looked to have a mountain to climb as high as any surrounding the picturesque setting in north-east India, but O'Brien helped steady the ship adding 44 with Balbirnie for the fourth wicket.
Ireland were still long odds against recording their first victory of the tour when Balbirnie was joined by George Dockrell on 73-4 but the former U19 team-mates turned the match on its head with a controlled stand of 143 in 27.4 overs.
Dockrell, who has become a genuine all-rounder, reached his half-century with a six to add to his solitary four but was then stumped two balls later for 54, and when Stuart Poynter fell for a duck, it need Andy McBrine to hold his nerve and give Balbirnie the support required.
"There were a couple of scary moments but you've got to take that risk as they have got world-class bowlers in their side," Balbirnie said.
"We haven't had practice the last two days because of the weather, so to play a knock like that is very special for myself and the team.
"When you go out and bat, you dream of having that kind of innings. I just stuck to my strengths - I got out sweeping the other day, but I didn't want to put that in the locker because it's a strong shot of mine. To bring that out today and play it quite well is good for me and my confidence.
"George batted brilliantly. He came in and showed a calm head, he knew what he wanted to do, and that took a bit of pressure off me. It's a shame he didn't get to see it through with me. The way we played them was good, but we could still be better, which is the exciting thing."
Ireland will know they let the Afghanistan batsmen off the hook with a missed stumping on 74-5 that would have given left-arm spinner James Cameron-Dow his second international wicket the ball after he bowled Hasmat Shahidi with a beauty via an inside edge.
Captain Asghar Afghan took advantage of the let off to make 75 and with Najib Zadran reaching his century in the final over the Afghanistan lower order looked to have again rescued their side - only for Balbirnie to produce by far the best of his three ODI centuries.