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Ireland look to positives after latest loss against the Afghans

 

In vain: Ireland ace George Dockrell
In vain: Ireland ace George Dockrell

By Ian Callender

A new venue but a familiar result for Ireland. The positive is, at least, they are getting closer.

For the first time in an eight-match losing run against Afghanistan in Twenty20 cricket, the game went to the last over but, defending a below-par 133 - although Ireland took five wickets for 50 - they could not make another breakthrough.

The cool heads of Mohammad Nabi and Najibullah Zadran were content to take four and five singles an over to get them out of the mess which Boyd Rankin, Peter Chase, Josh Little and Shane Getkate got them into after 7.2 overs and then, when they needed to step up the pace - requiring 41 from the last five overs - they finished in style with five fours and two sixes, having hit only two boundaries in the previous 10 overs.

Ireland also lost what could have been nine valuable deliveries from Stuart Thompson, who felt a recurrence of the hamstring niggle which kept him out of the first game at last week's quadrangular tournament in Oman.

Although he was willing to complete his third over, captain Paul Stirling took the decision to send him straight off with so many games left on the tour.

The Ireland innings had followed an almost identical path, but just at a slower pace. They were six down for 66 - Rashid Khan taking two wickets with his first four balls - and it was Stuart Poynter and George Dockrell who saw off Rashid's remaining overs and doubled the score in the last eight overs.

At the end, Stirling was questioning his decision to bat first.

"I feel batting first against Afghanistan is a great option but, in hindsight, with the dew coming down (at 9pm) in the last seven overs, it is definitely something I will think about (if I win the toss in the next games)," he said.

"Afghanistan have such good spinners that they restrict really well when you are chasing but I will go into Saturday's game with an open mind."

In the end, though, the result could actually have gone either way which is a huge positive for what has been a one-sided T20 contest in the last two years.

Ireland, as expected, named an unchanged team after that dramatic last-ball victory against Netherlands on Sunday, and Chase, who had figures of 3-112 in 8.3 overs in the Oman tournament, justified the selectors' faith with the wicket of captain Ashgar Afghan with his second ball and conceded only one run off the bat in that opening over.

Rankin then took two wickets in just four balls, and when Little followed five 'dot balls' with the wicket of the dangerous Samiullah Shinwari to a fine diving catch by Kevin O'Brien, Ireland were on top of things.

But they had been here before and even when Shane Getkate struck with his second ball, no one in the Irish camp was banking on victory. They will be disappointed not to take another wicket and, although Stirling used only one over of spin, he was banking on the pacemen finishing the job they had started.

The Irish batting never got going as mystery spinner Mujeeb Zadran finished his first three-over spell with the wicket of O'Brien, caught at long-on at a cost of just 13 runs, and Stirling, dropped at slip on two, was the first of Nabi's two economical wickets.

And it was Nabi who was to have the final say as he extended Ireland's agony.

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