Ireland get up and running with bowlers centre stage
Ireland's season is up and running after they claimed victory at the fifth attempt, to take a 1-0 lead in the two-match one-day international series against Afghanistan at Stormont.
Mark Adair, in only his fifth game, was the bowling hero, doubling his wickets tally in his first four games to finish with 4-19 as Afghanistan, just 13 days out from their first World Cup match, were bowled out for 138, their second lowest total against Ireland.
Ireland were defending only 210, significantly below par after Paul Stirling and William Porterfield had put on 99 for the third wicket, but the bowlers, after a nightmare Tri-series against Bangladesh and West Indies, recaptured the form they had shown against England, and this time finished the job in style, the Afghans bowled out in the 36th over.
Adair, who took a wicket with his second ball, was not introduced until the 13th over after Tim Murtagh and Andy McBrine - neither of whom had played in the previous match - took the new balls and did such a good job that Afghanistan were 22-2.
When Adair made it 22-3, it was a position the Afghans had been in in seven previous ODIs and they had lost them all. History may have been on Ireland's side but after getting hammered in the last couple of weeks, it was particularly impressive how the bowlers maintained the pressure and completed the kill.
The only scare was when Afghanistan soared from 41-4 to 88-4 in just five overs from Boyd Rankin and George Dockrell, but while the slow left armer went wicketless for a sixth successive innings, Rankin, after conceding 20 in his first two overs bounced back with three victims in nine balls, the last his 100th ODI wicket.
It was Kevin O'Brien who made the breakthrough, with the last ball of his first over tempting Mohammad Nabi outside his off stump and Gary Wilson took the first of three catches. Three overs later Rankin trapped Ashgar Afghan leg before wicket and while the former captain may have felt that the ball was going over the top of the stumps, he enjoyed a reprieve at the start of the over when replays showed he was short of his ground but umpire Alan Neill gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Rankin then steamed in for the next over and forced Rashid Khan into a rash pull shot which ended in the safe hands of Porterfield at mid-off and three balls later another short ball found the top edge of Dawlat Zadran's bat and it lobbed into Wilson's gloves.
Adair replaced O'Brien at the City End and 10 balls later the innings was all over, with skipper Gulbadin Naib driving straight to long-on where Tyrone Kane, fielding as substitute, took the catch and the bowler himself held on to a fierce return from Mujeeb Ur Rahman to emulate the injured Josh Little's four-wicket haul against England.
Tim Murtagh, as expected, replaced Little from the team which lost the final game of the Tri-Series against Bangladesh but rather than bring in Kane for Dockrell, Ireland chose to play both spinners, with McBrine replacing Barry McCarthy.
James McCollum still cannot get out of single figures at the start of his ODI career. After being denied a boundary which would have given him his highest score by a superb piece of fielding, next ball he was plumb in front on the back foot. But, yesterday at least, he was in good company because Andrew Balbirnie had only matched his score when he was caught behind off the inside edge.
That brought Porterfield in to bat again with Stirling and for 23 overs they batted with the confidence of two men who had scored more than 200 runs between them in the previous match, happy to nudge the singles and wait for the bad ball to up the tempo with boundaries.
Rashid, inevitably, broke the stand, although Porterfield will be disgusted to have picked out the long leg fielder. Unfortunately it was the first of a number of soft dismissals which saw Ireland lose their way and their wickets.
Stirling, just seven balls after his losing his captain, came down the pitch to Gulbadin and skied one to mid-on, Dockrell was run out going for a quick single and O'Brien, after an eventful innings of four fours and a dolly of a catch dropped at cover by Rashid, holed out to long leg.
The last five wickets fell for 18 runs and it looked as if Ireland were going to start another series with a defeat. But this time the bowlers held the ace cards.