Johnston leads the charge as Ireland's cricketers plot their revenge
Ireland will be looking for a second successive victory when they take on Canada in the Twenty20 Quadrangular Tournament in Colombo tomorrow morning (0400GMT).
After trying out their options in defeat on Sunday there was no messing about yesterday. A win against Afghanistan, Ireland’s nemesis for the last 10 months in four-day and 50 overs cricket, was the be all and end all.
So, out went Nigel Jones and Phil Eaglestone and in came Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien. Gary Kidd was forced to sit out a second successive game as Ireland fielded their first choice line-up and a five wickets win can be the launching pad for the second half of the tour.
Even the best laid plans can go astray, however, and although Alex Cusack was given the new ball, his first two overs went for 24 runs, just four less from two balls fewer than Eaglestone conceded against the Sri Lanka Board XI the previous day.
But some things never change and Trent Johnston actually bettered his performance on Sunday. Again he took a wicket in his first over but this time followed up with one in each of his remaining three overs to finish with four for 22 including that rare commodity in a T20 game, a maiden.
He was assisted by sharp work behind the stumps from Niall O’Brien and a brilliant overhead catch by Andrew White as Ireland held everything that came their way. The other catches were all fairly straightforward but ensured the bowlers got their full reward, none more so than George Dockrell who claimed another brace of wickets, both caught at long-off, this time at the miserly cost of just 11 runs, not bad for a left arm spinner. With his clever flight and variation the 17-year-old is now looking a certainty to play in next Tuesday’s World Twenty20 opener in Dubai.
And that’s what made this win even more important — Afghanistan are the first opponents and Ireland have the psychological edge.
A total of 121 should never be defendable and the positive display of the Ireland batting for 12 overs turned the victory chase into a formality.
Led from the front by captain William Porterfield, who hit nine boundaries in his 46 from just 30 balls, he and Niall O’Brien (18 off 13) brought up the 50 inside six overs of impressive powerplay batting. Paul Stirling, playing his first match of the tour just 36 hours after arriving from New Zealand, continued the good work until Andre Botha was beaten all ends up by off spinner Karim Sadiq. When Kevin O’Brien was bowled off the last ball of the next over, suddenly caution overtook the batsmen and there were fears that it would be the collapse against England revisited.
Stirling played five defensive shots to off spinner Mohammad Nabi and gave a return catch to the sixth and John Mooney then took five balls to get off the mark. Fortunately, Gary Wilson knew the way to win was to stay positive and a couple of boundaries released the tension.
Next over Mooney hit the winning four and Ireland were up and running.