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Zazai, Rashid, Mujeeb shine as Afghanistan clinch T20I series

Ire v Afg, 2nd T20I, report

Afghanistan sealed the Twenty20 International series after thrashing Ireland by 81 runs in the second of three encounters on Wednesday, 22 August.

Following up their 16-run win in the opening T20I at Bready Cricket Club, Afghanistan well and truly outplayed the hosts at the same venue this time around. Spinners Mujeeb Ur Rahman (3/17) and Rashid Khan (4-17) accounted for seven of the visitor’s wickets, with the Irish having very few answers against two exceptional young tweakers.

Afghanistan, who won the toss and opted to set a target, faltered at the start, with Ireland’s Simi Singh and Peter Chase getting early breakthroughs.

Mohammad Shahzad was gifted three juicy short and wide deliveries outside off-stump, but failed to connect, before another loose delivery from Singh was skewed to Boyd Rankin at short third man. Chase then restricted Samiullah Shenwari with four dots before a bouncer enticed a top-edge to George Dockrell at mid-wicket.

Afghanistan were 8/2 after three overs, compared to 28 for no loss at the same point in the first T20I, but opener Hazrat Zazai and No.4 Asghar Afghan (37 from 34 balls) put on 116 for the third wicket. It was Zazai who lit up the Afghanistan innings with a scintillating 82 from 54 balls, including six fours and seven sixes at a strike-rate of 151.85.

Zazai followed up his 74 in the first T20I with another agricultural but highly effective knock that stunned Ireland’s attack. Mohammad Nabi (12 runs from five balls) and Najibullah Zadran (20 not out from 10) added late-order impetus to biff Afghanistan to a respectable 160-8.

While Chase picked up 3-35, Rankin (2-14), who returned to the side after missing the first encounter, was the most impressive, picking up two wickets and only conceding 14 runs at an economy rate of 3.50. Joshua Little and Dockrell also picked up a wicket each, while Paul Stirling’s solitary over went for 20 during the late-innings tee-off.

After the economical Dockrell removed the dangerous Zazai, caught at cow-corner, Ireland produced a flurry of scalps, but the damage had been done.

At the interval, there were some interesting parallels with the first T20I. Zazai scored 74 in the first T20I and Afghan 31, while in the second T20I Zazai scored 82 and Afghan notched 37. In both matches the Afghanistan mid-to-lower order folded after a strong partnership, while the tourists scored 160/7 in the first T20I (18 overs per side) and 160/8 in this one.

Like their counterparts, Ireland’s innings got off to a poor start. Aftab Alam took the vital wicket of Stirling, who clipped the ball to Rashid at short mid-wicket, before Mujeeb dismissed Stuart Thompson and Andrew Balbirnie, who got a first-baller, in quick succession to make it 9/3.

A mini-revival was allowed after Shahzad shelled a regulation catch behind the sticks before William Porterfield began to find the boundary, hitting 33 from 23 to lift the hosts after a timid start. Rashid, the No.1 ranked bowler in the MRF Tyres T20I Rankings , nabbed Ireland’s No.3 with a misplaced reverse-sweep which found Alam, who completed an impressive diving catch.

Gary Wilson notched a 28-ball 22 but Ireland lost four wickets for just eight runs to end all hope of a memorable chase. Fareed Ahmad picked up Kevin O’Brien who holed out in the deep to make it 60/5, before Nabi bowled Singh, Rashid bowled Wilson and Mujeeb dismissed Dockrell, to make it 68/8.

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Rankin and Chase didn’t last long. The former dragged one on from Rashid before the spinner grabbed his fourth as Chase gifted a chance to Nabi at long on, who took a tidy diving catch.

Mujeeb and Rashid bamboozled Ireland’s batting line-up, who have their work cut out to counteract the threat of two of the world’s most enterprising prospects in the third and final T20I, while Alam, Ahmad and Nabi all claimed a wicket each to accompany tidy economy rates.

It was a fine all-round bowling display from the visitors, as Afghanistan took an unassailable 2-0 series lead.

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