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Ireland are left in a spin as Afghan whizzkid Mujeeb announces his arrival

 

By Ian Callender

Paul Stirling may achieve many things in his cricketing career but the most memorable may be that he was the first victim of Mujeeb Zadran.

All the talk before Ireland's three-match one-day series in Sharjah was how they would cope with teenage spin sensation Rashid Khan. Well, as of yesterday, he has an even younger rival for that title, a 16-year-old who announced his arrival on the international scene with four wickets in his first seven overs to reduce Ireland to 46 for six and staring at their lowest ever total in a one-day international.

With Afghanistan having already posted 238 for nine, the game was over as a contest even before Rashid came on to bowl but the 19-year-old still had the final say, taking Ireland's last wicket to wrap up what the stadium announcer described as a "comprehensive victory".

In truth, it was an unfair contest because, even in this day when there is footage available of every international, Ireland went in blind against Mujeeb because he had been called into the squad on the back of his performances in the Asia Under-19 Cup when he took 20 wickets at an average of 5.5.

So against a batting line-up which has never been the greatest at playing quality spin bowling, Stirling was trapped in front to the seventh ball he faced from Mujeeb, Andrew Balbirnie lasted just five, Gary Wilson was bowled behind his legs to his third and Kevin O'Brien managed seven balls before he was out sweeping.

Captain William Porterfield said: "We knew the young lad was in the squad and he was a very good bowler, but that was all. We now have 60 balls of footage and it's up to us to deal with him better on Thursday. We will have to come up with a gameplan because he proved he was effective with the new ball."

Porterfield also admitted he was unsure what to do when he won the toss but had decided it wouldn't spin as much as anticipated and left out Jacob Mulder in favour of playing Stuart Poynter as the extra batsman. Peter Chase lost his place to Niall O'Brien, with Kevin O'Brien, who took his 100th ODI wicket, used as the third seamer and Stirling was the third spinner.

Porterfield's reasoning proved sound because Ireland's slow bowlers sent down 20 overs and finished with 0-110, although Boyd Rankin, who finished with his best ODI figures, and Tim Murtagh, with an economical three - his last ball actually went for six - did all they could to keep the total in check.

At 132 for six, Ireland were on top but, as happened so often in India last March, the Afghanistan tail wagged emphatically and three sixes ensured that 50 came off the last five overs.

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