Paul Stirling, the Ireland captain, said he’d put Afghanistan in to bat in the first Twenty20 International in Dehradun because the Afghans “usually don’t like to chase”.
Unfortunately for Ireland, the tactic backfired. Ireland managed just 132/6, with Mohammad Nabi (2/16) and Rashid Khan (2/21) applying the squeeze.
Then, despite being reduced to 50/5, Afghanistan launched a stirring comeback through Nabi (49* off 40) and Najibullah Zadran (40* off 36). They won by four wickets, with four balls remaining.
What a game!— ICC (@ICC) February 21, 2019
An incredible win for Afghanistan with Mohammad Nabi (49*) and Najibullah Zadran (40) starring. Afghanistan looked out of the contest at 50/5 but an unbeaten 86-run partnership has given them the series lead. #AFGvIRE SCORECARD ⬇️https://t.co/Yao6PIKWwR pic.twitter.com/qeOHRxLRjM
Stirling, however, stood by his decision, saying Ireland had Afghanistan right where they wanted. “It was a tough call to start with – we didn't know if the dew was going to come down, and we won our last game batting second,” he said.
“But we thought Afghanistan usually don't like to chase, so that was at the forefront of my mind. If we could have made a good score of 150-160, I thought that could be defendable, and that proved right in that we got them where we did in the second innings at 5 down for about 50.
“If we had 20-30 more runs on the board, and had them in the same situation, I think we would have been in the front seat.”
Despite going one down in the three-match series, it wasn’t all bad for Ireland. Stirling was particularly pleased with the way they handled Khan, the No.1 bowler on the MRF Tyres ICC T20I Rankings.
“From my point of view, the positive intent we showed, even against Rashid, we were very intent on sweeping him. I don't mind seeing that,” he said. “He got a couple of wickets, but the lads were prepared to play shots, so from my point of view I don't mind that.
“It was great to see us getting wickets up front, always helps in T20, and if you don't manage to do that, you're always in for a tough time. So those would be the two for me. Hopefully, going forward, we can be better in the first ten overs of our innings and the second ten overs of theirs.”
As for Afghanistan, it was a fine start to a long series. Asghar Afghan, the captain, wasn’t altogether happy with how his team played, but that they still came away with a result particularly pleased him.
“In every series, the first game is very important,” he said. “In the top order, we played some poor shots, but the middle order was impressive today and didn't disappoint. I am happy with Najib and Nabi. We hope the guys get some good exposure, especially the young guys, so that they are ready for the World Cup.”
The second T20I will be played at the same venue on Saturday, 23 February.
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