A stunning knock of 145 not out from Andy Balbirnie – the third-highest one-day international score by an Ireland player – helped Ireland secure a long-awaited victory over Afghanistan in the third ODI in Dehradun.
Balbirnie combined with George Dockrell for a 143-run partnership to take Ireland to their first victory of the series, after Afghanistan appeared to have taken firm control of the game, with the Irish 73/4 in their chase of 257.
Balbirnie’s heroics followed on from an Afghan innings that saw Najibullah Zadran score his maiden international century, an excellent knock after Ireland had threatened to bowl Afghanistan out cheaply.
After 19 overs, Afghanistan were reeling on 74/5. Mohammad Shahzad, Rahmat Shah and Samiullah Shinwari departed for single-figure scores, while Hazratullah Zazai, threatening to continue his strong run of form, was run out by Tim Murtagh with a direct hit for a 33-ball 34.
An Afghan resurgence came in the shape of skipper Asghar Afghan and Najibullah, who put on 117 runs for the sixth wicket before Boyd Rankin had Asghar removed for 75.
The dismissal of Asghar was followed by Mohammad Nabi (2) in the very same over, leaving Afghanistan 193/7 with six overs left to play. This was no issue for Najibullah, who accelerated in brilliant fashion, seemingly on a one-man mission to take his side to a respectable score.
Having reached his fifty from 75 balls, the explosive left-hander took just 22 more balls to reach three figures. While Najibullah found some luck – he was dropped by Andy McBrine two balls prior to reaching his century – Ireland were on the end of some ferocious big-hitting, as Najibullah pounded five sixes and five fours in his 98-ball stay at the crease.
Murtagh and Rankin picked up two wickets for the Irish, and McBrine impressed with his off-spin once more having collected 2/43 in the previous ODI. He finished with 1/37 from his 10 overs here, having been tasked once more with taking the new ball.
Ireland’s top order struggles with the bat looked set to continue when Mujeeb had William Porterfield (3) dismissed cheaply with the new ball, while Dawlat Zadran picked up the wickets of Paul Stirling (20) and Simi Singh (1). With Kevin O’Brien out for 21, an Irish win seemed improbable.
Balbirnie and Dockrell then set about upstaging the Asghar-Najibullah partnership. The pair tackled the threatening Afghan bowling attack with great finesse, putting on 143 runs together, with Dockrell reaching his second ODI fifty, while Balbirnie went to his third, and finest, ODI century.
At one stage, it appeared that it was destined for the two to secure victory together, but Dockrell (54) was stumped by Mohammad Shahzad off the bowling of Nabi to leave Ireland 216/5. A duck for Stuart Poynter brought more pressure onto the Irish, as the threat of the Balbirnie-Dockrell partnership going to waste loomed large.
Andy McBrine’s innings of nine thus proved to be an important one, as Balbirnie controlled the run chase at the other end. It nearly all came to a crashing end when Balbirnie sent the ball to short fine-leg while on 136, but a simple catch popped out of the hands of Rahmat Shah to save Ireland’s skin.
It proved a fatal blow to Afghanistan’s chances of stealing back victory, with Balbirnie sealing the win with a boundary off the final ball of the penultimate over.
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