Another Paul Stirling century went in vain as Afghanistan spinners starred in the final ODI to hand their side a 36-run victory.
With the 3-0 series sweep over Ireland, Afghanistan have claimed 30 points as they climb up the ICC Cricket World Cup Super League ladder, above Pakistan at No.4.
Having set a target of 267, Ireland got off to a shaky start as they lost their opener James McCollum (3) and skipper Andy Balbirnie (5) within the first 10 overs.
Paul Stirling's solid century goes in vain as Ireland are bowled out for 230.— ICC (@ICC) January 26, 2021
Afghanistan win the final ODI by 36 runs and sweep the #AFGvIRE series 3-0 🙌
Scorecard: https://t.co/7Krl6PZHHG | 📸 @Irelandcricket pic.twitter.com/qKO4iWD5HZ
McCollum was the first one to fall when Mujeeb Ur Rahman had him bowled in the sixth over. While Ireland skipper, Balbirnie, who struggled to make runs in the first two ODIs, once again fell for a single-digit score.
In contrast, Stirling continued his rich form in the final clash, as he went on to make a solid 118 from 119 balls which was studded with nine fours and six sixes. It was his second century in a row, and fourth in his last six ODIs. He also set up a new benchmark in Irish cricket, as he now has the most ODI hundreds, 12, by an Ireland batsman.
From one end, Stirling kept the scoreboard ticking, but Ireland kept on losing wickets from the other end. Harry Tector (24), Lorcan Tucker (22) and Simi Singh (20) got off to good starts but they failed to convert their innings into match-winning knocks.
Big wicket for Afghanistan 💥— ICC (@ICC) January 26, 2021
Mujeeb Ur Rahman has claimed the prized scalp of Paul Stirling, who falls after making an impressive 118. #AFGvIRE | https://t.co/7Krl6Qhize | 📸 @Irelandcricket pic.twitter.com/FyGZry5eo8
Once Ireland lost the prized wicket of Stirling to Mujeeb at the start of the 37th over, Afghanistan brought themselves back in the game with regular strikes which involved two run-outs of Mark Adair and Singh.
In the last five overs, Ireland needed 48 runs with three wickets in hand, but Afghanistan held their nerves and bowled the opposition out for 230 on the first ball of the 48th over. Rashid Khan starred with the ball, returning brilliant figures of 4/29 from nine overs.
Earlier, a combination of mini-partnerships helped Afghanistan post a tricky target of 266/9, despite slowing down considerably in their run-making in the middle overs.
Afghanistan scored 44 runs in their first five overs, and 50 in their final five. However, in the interim, Ireland restricted them, taking wickets regularly, and forcing the Afghans to adopt a more considered approach.
They had gotten off to flier after being put in to bat, with Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who scored a century in the first match of the series on debut, blasted his way to a 10-ball 22. At the other end, Javed Ahmadi creamed a 10-ball 19.
However, such an approach always risked wickets, and Afghanistan lost three in a flurry. Gurbaz was the first to fall, clean bowled by a full delivery from Craig Young, and in his next over, he had the other opener Ahmadi holing out to mid-off. Two balls later, Young had Rahmat Shah dismissed for 2. Hashmatullah Shahidi looked to hang around, but was caught off a turner from Andy McBrine, and Afghanistan were reduced to 66/4.
It was then that the senior figures of Mohammad Nabi and captain Asghar Afghan got together. They ensured the flow of wickets was stopped, with Asghar leading the way. He put on 51 for the fifth wicket with Nabi, and followed it up with another 45-run stand with Gulbadin Naib after Nabi was trapped in front by Singh for 32.
The partnerships allowed Afghanistan to keep their wickets intact for the flourish in the death. After Asghar holed out to Singh in the 35th over, Khan took on the job of guiding the innings through the end. He scored a 40-ball 48, accelerating in the last five overs of the innings, to take Afghanistan to a healthy total.
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