John Mooney rescues Irish title bid
Three wickets in the final session by John Mooney hauled Ireland back into contention in the Intercontinental Cup final in Dubai but Afghanistan were, comfortably, the happier team at the end of day one.
The holders bowled out Ireland for 187 and had reduced the deficit by 81 when the light faded to end play 13 minutes early.
Only John Anderson and Mooney got past 20, ironically the two players who may not even have been playing if Ireland had their 14-man panel to choose from.
But with neither Tim Murtagh nor Gary Wilson available for selection, the team virtually picked itself, with Stuart Thompson, the only player remaining, fulfilling 12th man duties.
For Trent Johnston and Andrew White in their landmark game, it was a steady rather than spectacular start.
Johnston will be hoping he has one more innings in an Ireland shirt after his third ball dismissal yesterday and the highlight's of White's record-equalling 226th Ireland cap so far has been a catch at third slip, rather than the 11 runs he scored from 28 balls.
National coach Phil Simmons – as ever giving nothing away, even after the team was selected – hinted that Anderson may have started even if everyone was available because of his record in the competition this season; he scored a century against the Netherlands and followed up with 56 against Scotland.
The Merrion batsman almost maintained his average, top scoring from No 6 with 55, but was eventually upstaged by Mooney, with whom he shared the only 50-partnership of the day and then took his first three-wicket haul in the competition.
Coming on in the 15th over, with only 29 runs on the board, Mooney gave a lot of the credit to the opening bowlers, Johnston and Max Sorensen.
"They bowled brilliant at the start and didn't let them get away. I was the lucky one to get the wickets," said Mooney.
"It's certainly not a 187-wicket, it's a good pitch and our backs are against the walls. There is a bit happening but if you apply yourself there are runs to be scored as Ando showed."
"It's also a big ask for Ed Joyce and Andrew White, who both missed the Twenty20 competition, to come out of our winter and hit the ground running in a first class games against a good side.
"You can be a bit rusty, but hopefully we can put it right in the second innings."
The day had started badly for Ireland when Murtagh flew home, for personal reasons, to be with his family, and it just got worse. Gary Wilson took ill during the night and was still in his hotel room when William Porterfield's luck ran out at the toss.
Ireland batted first in all eight matches in their victorious World Twenty20 Qualifying campaign in Abu Dhabi last month but, on the day he desperately wanted to field – on a pitch with a hint of green and dew – he was walking out at 10am with Paul Stirling to open the innings.
Five minutes later he was walking in the opposite direction, caught at second slip, the first – all credit to the Afghans – of several superb catches.
Stirling played the worst shot of the day, the ball after his third boundary, to give a straightforward catch to the wicket-keeper.
Niall O'Brien played on and White missed a sweep before a low catch at first slip ended the seventh wicket partnership between Anderson and Mooney.
The latter followed three balls later to an even better one at second slip and after Johnston was bamboozled by the leg spin for Rehmat Shah, Sorensen and George Dockrell added 23 runs.
Afghanistan's star performer was Dawlat Zadran (pictured) who ended an impressive first spell with the wickets of Stirling, Joyce and O'Brien and made it four with Mooney's wicket when he returned from the opposite end.
The Afghans were determined to 'dig in' when they went out to bat and Nawroz Mangal took 19 balls to get off the mark, but with his second ball, Mooney had him caught down the leg side by Niall O'Brien.
Two more wickets in six balls from Mooney, the first to that superb grab by White, continued the Ireland fightback and left Mooney reflecting on what might have been and what is still to come.
"I probably wouldn't have been playing if we were at full strength so I'm happy to be playing and taking wickets," he said.
* JAMES Cameron-Dow has moved a step closer to a full call-up after the North Down slow bowler was named in the Ireland A squad for a two-week, four-game tour of Sri Lanka in the New Year.
Ireland A: A Poynter, A Balbirnie, J Cameron-Dow, C Dougherty, P Eaglestone, T Kane, A McBrine, B McCarthy, S Poynter, E Richardson, J Shannon, S Thompson.