Thompson's best just not enough to prevent Irish loss
William Porterfield will probably still be asking himself "what if?" this morning when he looks back at Ireland's six-wicket defeat to Afghanistan in the first Twenty20 international between the teams in Greater Noida.
Stuart Thompson - Ireland's man of the match after posting his highest score for the Irish (56) - had just taken the Afghan's second wicket but, with 34 still needed from the last five overs, the captain replaced the Eglinton all-rounder with Kevin O'Brien. A 10-ball over (including four wides) costing 27 runs followed and it was game over.
To be fair to Porterfield, O'Brien had never conceded 40 runs in a T20 international, and this time he went for 52. Adding to the bowler and skipper's agony, Thompson duly took a wicket in the next over and Craig Young added another as Afghanistan took 12 balls over the last seven runs. They still won with two overs to spare to go one up in the three-match series.
Also, what if O'Brien - it wasn't a good day for Ireland's most capped player in his 282nd game - had held on to a catch on the mid-off boundary when Mohammad Shahzad was on 27 in George Dockrell's first over? The diminutive big-hitting opener added another 20 before he was run out - by Dockrell.
But the real damage to and by Ireland had been done in the first innings when they added only 65 runs in the last eight overs, from the perfect platform of 100 for two. Next ball, though, Porterfield was run out going for a third and O'Brien was stumped two overs later.
Gary Wilson, Ireland's most consistent T20 batsman this year, and Lorcan Tucker, called up for his second cap, hit 34 off the last two overs but on a good pitch in the quick-fire format, bowlers will always be under pressure to defend 165.
In the absence of Boyd Rankin, who has been ruled out of the series with a minor back problem - they are saving the tall pace bowler for the one-day internationals - Porterfield opened with spin at both ends but after two overs Afghanistan had moved to 22-0.
Andy McBrine, despite conceding only two boundaries, wasn't seen again but in the end only he and Thompson kept the Afghans below the required run rate. The second match is tomorrow.