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Last-wicket stand gives Ireland hope, but Afghans poised for win



Top scorer: Andrew Balbirnie

Top scorer: Andrew Balbirnie

Top scorer: Andrew Balbirnie

There was to be no St Patrick's Day miracle for Ireland but they have taken their first overseas Test match into a fourth day.

Afghanistan remain firm favourites, needing another 118 runs with nine wickets standing, but early wickets this morning could put them under pressure and a first Test win for the newest Full Members is still up for grabs.

Memories of famous wins on March 17 - Pakistan at the 2007 World Cup and Zimbabwe at the 2014 World Twenty20 - came flooding back at the start of play but Ireland were, again, grateful for a last wicket partnership to keep them in the match.

After George Dockrell and Tim Murtagh had put on 87 in the first innings, Murtagh, still batting at No 11, added another 27 to his first innings 54 not out, this time with Test debutant James Cameron-Dow who finished unbeaten on 32 after a stand of 58, only the third time in 2,351 Tests that the same team had put on more than 50 for the 10th wicket in both innings.

When Murtagh holed out to deep mid-wicket, the ball after pulling Yamin Ahmadzai through the leg side for four, Afghanistan were left with 147 to win and during a cautious start when they scored only five runs in the first 10 overs, Andy McBrine claimed the wicket of Mohammad Shahzad, thanks to a excellent leg side take by Stuart Poynter.

Four boundaries followed in the next four overs but Ireland's decision to open the bowling at both ends with spin was entirely justified.

Unsurprisingly it was Rashid Khan who was the main destroyer of the Ireland innings, albeit with more than a little help from umpire Sundaram Ravi.

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His first mistake could be the most expensive of them all, giving Paul Stirling out leg before when he clearly - to virtually everyone else - had inside edged into his pads in the fifth over of the day.

Undaunted, Andrew Balbirnie and James McCollum, in his ­second Test innings, played superbly for the rest of the morning session and into the afternoon, with a century partnership which put Ireland within five runs of Afghanistan's first innings lead.

But Balbirnie, in what he admitted was a loss of concentration, flashed at chinaman bowler Waqar Salamkheil and was caught behind and McCollum followed six balls later, leg before to Rashid when he missed a pull shot.

Three overs later Poynter cut hard, but straight to slip and when Stuart Thompson was adjudged to have got an edge to slip Ireland were 157-6 and only 15 in front.

But it was a seventh wicket stand between Kevin O'Brien and Thompson which had taken Ireland past 300 in their second innings against Pakistan in their inaugural Test and this time it was O'Brien and Dockrell who had added 63 before Ravi took centre stage.

First, he gave another leg before decision against Dockrell which would surely have gone over the stumps, if DRS had been in use, and then, crucially, O'Brien was given no benefit of the doubt and was Rashid's (and Ravi's) third leg before decision, that ball probably missing leg stump.

Andy McBrine followed almost immediately, to give Rashid his first five-wicket haul in Tests - and his fourth in all formats against Ireland - to leave the visitors just 88 ahead when last man Murtagh came to the wicket.

Today will determine just how valuable those extra 58 runs will be.

The three slow bowlers sent down 65 of the 106 overs in the Afghanistan first innings, each finishing with two wickets but today they will not have the ­luxury of that sort of time to take the remaining nine wickets.

Tim Murtagh had to be satisfield with just one wicket from 22 overs and it was Stuart Thompson who took the last two wickets to finish with three and take his tally to seven in two Tests.

William Porterfield was out to the second ball of Ireland's second innings as his miserable run against Afghanistan continued but he remains in charge on the field and will do everything in his power, albeit against the odds, to get Ireland over the line with a victory today.

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