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Paul Stirling had hoped for

Nabi shines and records tumble as Afghanistan clinch T20I opener

Afg v Ire, 1st T20I, report

Afghanistan beat Ireland by five wickets in the first T20I in Dehradun – a game that saw both teams break partnership records for their respective nations.

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In the first innings, George Dockrell and Stuart Poynter combined for an undefeated 67-run stand – an Ireland record for the seventh wicket – while Mohammad Nabi and Najibullah Zadran surpassed the previous record for Afghanistan’s highest sixth-wicket partnership when they turned the tide to help their side secure their eighth successive victory over Ireland in the format. 

After Ireland had posted 132/6 in their twenty overs, the visitors looked favourites at the half-way mark of Afghanistan’s chase. Akin to Ireland’s earlier struggles, Afghanistan’s top order looked unsure on a slow deck, with top edges regularly coming into play. 

But Mohammad Nabi entered the fray to follow up his 2/16 with the ball in the first innings to smash a 40-ball 49 and, along with Zadran, saw Afghanistan home with four balls remaining.

The men in green won the toss and elected to bat, but Afghanistan kept experienced campaigners Kevin O'Brien and skipper Paul Stirling quiet in the opening overs. Just 11 runs came off the first three before Stirling, Ireland’s skipper, broke the shackles with few potent off-side slashes.

O’Brien picked out Nabi in the deep off the bowling of Mujeeb ur Rahman before Andrew Bilbirnie was adjudged lbw to Karim Janat. Nabi then removed both Stirling (23) and Simi Singh as part of a sensational spell of economical bowling, with his four overs producing 2/16.

Stuart Thompson (18) showed flickers of form but he and Shane Getkate were both felled by Rashid Khan (2/21), the man who sits at the pinnacle of the MRF Tyres ICC T20I Player Rankings for bowling, who grabbed two wickets in his first over.

While Afghanistan’s spin trio of Mujeeb, Rashid and Nabi continued to apply the brakes, all-rounder Dockrell (34* from 28 balls) and keeper-batsman Poynter (31 from 28 balls) combined to propel Ireland to 132.

A six from Hazrat Zazai off the last ball of a wayward Boyd Rankin opening over, which leaked 16 runs, signalled intent, but Asghar Afghan was soon walking back after picking out Getkate off the bowling of Peter Chase.

Despite a costly first over and a dropped catch in the deep, Rankin redeemed himself with the wickets of Hazrat Zazai and Karim Janat, and at 30/3 the game was evenly poised.

Josh Little dismissed Samiullah Shenwari courtesy of a tidy grab by O’Brien before Little took a clever catch at third man to send Sharafuddin Ashraf on his way, as Afghanistan laboured to 50/5. At that moment, Ireland were in the ascendancy.

Ireland went with an all-pace attack in the first ten overs, which contrasted their opposition’s reliance on twirlers, and Afghanistan failed to find the boundary between the fifth and thirteenth over.

But Najibullah Zadran and Nabi both found their groove thereon. While signs of a shift were already at play, it was the four and six from Zadran’s blade (40 from 36) that really swung the game in Afghanistan's favour, as the duo secured the victory in the final over.

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