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Irish fall to opening loss but positives offer hope

 

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Cleaned out: Josh Little bowls Afghanistan captain Ashgar Afghan at Bready yesterday

Cleaned out: Josh Little bowls Afghanistan captain Ashgar Afghan at Bready yesterday

Cleaned out: Josh Little bowls Afghanistan captain Ashgar Afghan at Bready yesterday

Ireland are getting closer, thanks to a tremendous bowling performance in the second half of the innings, but it could not prevent Afghanistan from completing a sixth straight Twenty20 win over the men in green in the first of three internationals at Bready last night.

The damage was done in the first five overs of the match by an opening batsman playing only his second game, who hit a 22-ball 50 to immediately put Ireland on the back foot.

But from 115-1 after 10 overs, Ireland restricted their visitors to 45 runs from the last eight — the game was reduced to 18 overs by a light drizzle before the start.

While Paul Stirling was in the middle, a victory target of 161 was well within reach, but when the in-form Middlesex opener fell to a spectacular one-handed catch on the boundary, Ireland’s hopes faded with him.

But, encouragingly for the remaining two games tomorrow and Friday, Ireland scored 51 runs from the last five overs without their top six in the middle and finished just 16 runs short, the closest margin between the teams in T20 internationals in the last two years.

The biggest positive for Ireland was the four overs bowled by 18-year-old Josh Little, the Pembroke left-armer who made his debut on this ground in September 2016 against Hong Kong, but through a combination of exams and injuries has not played since the Desert T20 tournament 19 months ago.

He bowled one over in the early mayhem which went for just nine runs, but only nine singles came off his last three overs when Afghanistan would have expected to build on their fast start.

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Almost singularly responsible for that was Hazratullah Zazai, a batsman who managed to put the free-scoring Mohammad Shahzad in the shade.

He brought up his 50 with a third six in Tyrone Kane’s first over and, having already hit eight fours, Afghanistan were 65-0 after five overs.

The experienced Kevin O’Brien, who has played in T20 competitions all round the globe, was hit for successive sixes when he joined the attack in the seventh over, and it needed the slow bowling of Simi Singh to tempt Zazai into a mistake, caught behind off his glove sweeping, but not before he had scored 74 from 33 balls with a final boundary count of eight fours and six sixes.

Shahzad had scored 10 of the 91-run partnership and, although he hit Singh for two sixes in his next over, Simi ended his innings with a direct hit from point.

Ireland conceded only three more boundaries, with Little being rewarded with two wickets in his final over, and Afghanistan scored only a single off the last over, bowled by Peter Chase.

This was an Ireland attack missing Boyd Rankin, who along with David Delany and James Shannon were declared not fit to play, hence the starting slot for Kane who was brought into the squad on Sunday.

Shannon will certainly add firepower to the batting, which is still too reliant on Stirling and Stuart Thompson coming off at the top of the order. Thompson reverse swept mystery spinner Mujeeb Khan for four but was bowled next ball, and when William Porterfield and Kevin O’Brien, at No.4, followed quickly, Ireland were up against it.

Gary Wilson attacked from the start but Afghanistan still had four overs from the world’s top T20 bowler Rashid Khan to come, and although he ended up with three wickets, Ireland took 35 off his four overs. Another positive in defeat. 

Scorecard

AFGHANISTAN

Mohammad Shazad run out 29 (21)

Hazratullah Zazai c Wilson b Singh 74 (33)

Ashgar Afghan b Little 31 (30)

Najibullah Zadran c Wilson b Little 7 (10)

Mohammad Nabi  c Stirling b Kane 7 (5)

Samiullah Shinwari c Dockrell b Kane 1 (4)

Usman Ghani not out 1

Rashid Khan c Wilson b Chase 0 (3)

Aftab Alam not out 0

Extras (1nb 1lb 8w) 10

Total (7 wkts, 18 overs) 160

Did not bat: Fareed Ahmad, Mujeeb Zadran

Fall: 1-87 2-119 3-151 4-152 5-153 6-159 7-159

Bowling: T Kane 4-0-50-2, P Chase 4-0-29-1, J Little 4-0-20-2, S Singh 3-0-27-1, K O’Brien 1-0-16-0, G Dockrell 2-0-17-0

IRELAND

P Stirling c Aftab b Fareed 27 (19)

S Thompson b Mujeeb 5 (5)

W Porterfield c Aftab b Mujeeb (8)

K O’Brien c Hazratullah b Nabi 6 (8)

G Wilson c Ghani b Fareed 34 (23)

A Balbirnie lbw b Rashid 8 (9)

S Singh c Mujeeb b Aftab 20 (17)

G Dockrell not out 22 (13)

J Little b Rashid 0 (1)

T Kane c Najibullah b Rashid 8 (3)

P Chase not out1 (1)

Extras (1b 2lb 2w) 5

Total (9 wkts, 18 overs) 144

Fall: 1-12 2-31 3-47 4-55 5-88 6-90 7-131 8-131 9-139

Bowling: Aftab Alam 4-0-30-1, Mujeeb 3-0-14-2, Fareed Ahmad 4-0-29-2, Mohammad Nabi 3-0-33-1, Rashid Khan 4-0-35-3

Afghanistan beat Ireland by 16 runs


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