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Bowlers power Afghanistan to 1-0 lead

by   •  Last updated on 2020-04-13 16:01:42

Afghanistan continued to make forward strides on their tour of Ireland with another clinical bowling performance to leave hosts Ireland without a positive result. A lot of it was down to Ireland's own deficiencies with the bat, as their bowlers did everything in their powers to set the game up beautifully for a prospective 1-0 lead. Afghanistan took that scoreline home in the end, with each of their bowlers chipping away at wickets.

At the halfway stage, Ireland would've felt this game - and their first points of the series - were there for the taking. Fast-bowling pair of Tim Murtagh and Boyd Rankin combined to account for seven Afghanistan wickets and provided for that feeling as Afghanistan just couldn't stitch together enough partnerships to push past a sub-par score. There were just two notable partnerships - first between Gulbadi Naib (64) and Rahmat Shah and then between Naib and Hashmatullah Shahidi (54) - as Asghar Afghan failed to make good on a positive start.

When the partnership between Naib and Shahidi was starting to seem good enough for Afghanistan to make a big score, William Porterfield pulled off a masterstroke. He brought back Rankin earlier than the death overs, and reaped immediate rewards. Rankin broke the big partnership and made way for Murtagh to run through the lower-order. The 37-year-old pacer began his penultimate over with just one wicket to his name, but finished with his best ODI figures of 10-1-31-4, that reduced the visitors to 227 for 9.

In the post-match addressal, Asghar Afghan rightly credited his fielders for a successful defence of a lowly score. He said: "I would give credit to the fielders. We have not been finishing really well. We took some good catches and got a few run-outs." Porterfield's grim but realistic assessment that his side lacked partnership was on point too. In a scorecard that had just a single 50-plus score - 55 from Andrew Balbirnie - there just weren't any partnerships that could bear the brunt of a relentless bowling attack.

Young spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman was given new-ball duties and bowled six overs in his first spell by when Ireland had both their openers back in the dressing room. Once Porterfield fell in the 11th over, Ireland's scoring rate worsened. In seven overs since, they added just 18 more runs. The scoreboard pressure culminated in another wicket as Niall O'Brien was run out for 11.

If the shaky start wasn't enough, Ireland had the arduous task of negotiating 10 overs of Rashid Khan in the final 30 overs, few of those through middle overs when they badly needed an upward surge in chase. Balbirnie took him on briefly, but lacked support at the other end.

The best batting period for Ireland came with Kevin O'Brien and Balbirnie at the crease, with the latter bringing up his half-century. But Mujeeb returned and struck in first over, as Balbirnie's umpteenth attempt to play the sweep resulted in his exit. Kevin became the second run out victim just overs later, leaving Ireland in a precarious position.

When they needed 77 off the last 60 balls, Ireland could only manage 27 runs in the five overs that was bowled in tandem by Mujeeb and Rashid. Gary Wilson still kept the chase alive with 10 to get every over, but Rashid wrapped it all up in two deliveries in the 49th over. Rashid's first wicket of the day came when Wilson attempted a slog sweep and missed it completely, followed by a simple catch off his own bowling to dismiss Peter Chase and catch Ireland short.

Brief Scores: Afghanistan 227/9 in 50 overs (Gulbadin Naib 64, Hashmatullah Shahidi 54; Tim Murtagh 4-31, Boyd Rankin 3-44) beat Ireland 198 in 48.3 overs (Andrew Balbirnie 55; Aftab Alam 2-34, Rashid Khan 2-41, Mohammad Nabi 2-42) by 29 runs