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Ireland now face battle to halt alarming slide in form

By Ian Callender

Ireland must win the remaining three games in their series against Afghanistan at Stormont if they are to regain their status as the top Associate side in one-day cricket.

And, on the evidence of the first match yesterday, that could be the most difficult assignment of an already testing 2016.

Knocked out of the World Twenty20 in the group stages in March without winning a match and beaten heavily by Sri Lanka in the first two one-day internationals of the summer, there was little sign of improvement as the mistakes which have plagued them all year handed Afghanistan a 39-run victory.

The Irish performance could not be faulted when winning the second half of the first innings and the first half of the second, but when the pressure was on they were found wanting again.

Having taken the last six Afghan wickets for 55 to dismiss them for 250, the new opening partnership of captain William Porterfield and Ed Joyce put on 71 for the first wicket.

And although John Anderson was dismissed on the stroke of the second drinks break, Ireland needed just 91 from 16 overs with six wickets left, including both Kevin O'Brien and Paul Stirling, who dropped down to No.6 - the first time he has ever batted below No.3 for Ireland.

But Ireland's two biggest and cleanest hitters perished on the boundary in the space of five overs and when Andy McBrine, a batting star against Sri Lanka, was leg before for just 12, the game was up for Ireland.

Porterfield said: "There were a couple of soft dismissals but I don't want the batsmen to tighten up, we just have to be more ruthless when we get ourselves into good positions.

"We did a lot of good things during the 100 overs and I thought we bowled well, but it is a case of getting that winning feeling back.

"It's not a car crash, you are always going to lose games of cricket, so it's a question of getting over the line on Thursday in the next game."

With McBrine set to be given his chance as a bowling all-rounder and batting at No.7, out-of-form Gary Wilson lost his place in the line-up and the gloves to Stuart Poynter, who was promoted to No.4 in the new-look batting order.

Peter Chase made a promising return to the bowling attack, although it was O'Brien who Ireland were initially forced to rely on for wickets.

Coming on as third change, he made the breakthrough in the 16th over and followed up with three more wickets including the big one of Mohammad Shahzad, who was relatively becalmed with his 66 coming off 79 balls and including just nine boundaries.

Barry McCarthy, in only his third international, also ensured Ireland finished well, taking wickets in each of his last four overs and ensuring a less than hectic finale by having the dangerous left-hander Najibullah Zadran caught at cover for 59 from 61 balls.

The Afghans immediately targeted McBrine. He only got two overs and, with George Dockrell also going for five runs an over, Ireland's slow bowlers were out-bowled by their opponents.

Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan took three wickets each and they were well supported by Dawlat Zadran and Mirwais Ashraf, who cut Joyce's innings short.

Opening for the first time for Ireland since 2012, he found the boundary only six times in his 62 but the Irish were on top when he was in the middle.

Unfortunately, he certainly didn't stay long enough.

Belfast Telegraph

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