Afghanistan vs Ireland T20I Series: Afghanistan trump Ireland in the series opener, win by five wickets
Afghanistan took a 1-0 lead in the T20I series as they beat Ireland by five wickets at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Dehradun, thereby completing their eighth consecutive win against Ireland in T20Is. And perhaps, the toughest, most hard-fought victory.
Ireland captain Paul Stirling won the toss and opted to bat first. The decision proved to be a wrong one as they lost quick wickets early on. Kevin O' Brien was dismissed for a paltry score of five in the fifth over, who was then followed soon by Andrew Balbirnie in the next over. The skipper too, got out two overs later for 23 of 25 balls. Wickets kept falling at regular intervals and Ireland were six wickets down for just 65 in the 12th over.
At this point of time, George Dockrell and Stuart Poynter came to the rescue and added 67 runs together to take the total to a defendable 132/7 in the limited 20 overs. Both of them remained unbeaten on 34 and 31 respectively, with each facing 28 balls.
For Afghanistan, Mohammad Nabi and spin sensation Rashid Khan took 2 wickets each in their quota of 4 overs.
It wasn't a plain sail for Afghanistan either, as they lost both their openers inside the first four overs. Captain Asghar Afghan fell to Peter Chase after adding just five to the score board. Hazratullah Zazai made his intentions very clear from the start, hitting Boyd Rankin for a six and a four in the very first over. But, he didn't last long at all. Karim Janat's dismissal in the same over meant that Ireland were in the driver's seat.
Samiullah Shenwari and Sharafuddin Ashraf were the next to depart as Afghanistan went five wickets down for just 50 runs. At 50/5, they were under great pressure and the remaining 83 seemed a distant climb.
After Sharafuddin's wicket, Najibullah Zadran came to join Mohammad Nabi and both batsmen began with rotating the strike intelligently to keep the required run-rate within reach. Run-rate was never the issue, it was the tumbling of wickets that had left the Afghans in a major spot of bother.
Both Nabi and Zadran brought in all their experience and took the game deeper in order to keep wickets in hand. With 41 needed from the last 5 overs, these two batsmen decided to up the ante and use their time spent at the crease to good effect. Consequently, the next over produced 15, courtesy of two fours and a six. By this time, Afghanistan had also found an ally in dew, which meant the Ireland bowlers were left struggling with a wet ball.
After 16 overs, the equation had come down to 26 runs from 24 balls and Ireland needed something miraculous from their bowlers to turn the match once again in their favor.
However, Nabi, who ensured no nonsense since coming on to bat, finished unbeaten on 49 from 40 balls and took the team over the line with four balls to spare. On the other hand, Zadran made an impressive 40 off 36 balls, smashing three fours and a six in the process.
Mohammad Nabi was adjudged the Player of the match for his all-round performance in the match.
Nonetheless, the series is still wide open as far as Ireland's hopes of a revival are concerned, with the second T20I slated to commence on 23 February.