Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Afghanistan turn the tables with come-from-behind win

Aftab Alam gets a bear hug AFP

Afghanistan 223 (Nabi 64, Asghar 54, Rashid 52, Cameron-Dow 3-32) beat Ireland 114 (Alam 4-25, Rashid 2-22, Mujeeb 2-25) by 109 runs

Afghanistan turned the tables on Ireland, mounting a comeback of their own from 81 for 6, and sustaining it for the rest of the match to go 2-1 up with a game left in the series. Captain Asghar Afghan made yet another fifty that held the innings together, and his effort was backed by stalwarts Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan who made fifties of their own down the order as Ireland struggled to close yet another innings after being in a dominant position.

Afghanistan made fewer runs than they had on Tuesday in the third ODI, but a bowling line-up strengthened by Aftab Alam, who took 4 for 25, ensured Ireland didn't get anywhere near the target on the night. With only four batsmen getting into double-figures, Ireland lost by 109 runs. Mujeeb ur Rahman and Rashid - standing in during the bowling innings for the injured Asghar - took two wickets each.

After William Porterfield had put them in, Afghanistan's batsmen repeatedly paid the price for looking to play with hard hands on a slow surface. While it was Hazratullah Zazai's mandate to be aggressive - and he was before Andy McBrine got him - the rest of the top order was guilty of not adapting. Noor Ali Zadran and Rahmat Shah were caught looking to force shots on the up through the off side, Ikram Ali Khil - coming in for Mohammad Shahzad - reached out and jabbed at a turning ball, and Gulbadin Naib went across the line to be lbw. At that point, Ireland's bowlers had shared five wickets inside 14 overs. Najibullah Zadran's watchfulness for 14 balls was an unlikely precursor to his dismissal - chipping one back to James Cameron-Dow, who would finish with 3 for 32 in his ten.

Asghar hadn't changed his style too much despite the wickets tumbling around him, surviving dangerously before nailing the occasional six. He had hit three and was striking at run-a-ball at 81 for 6, but soon picked a more mature approach.

This was also what Nabi did at the other end. The pair assessed their scoring options, finding that using their feet against spin was the only way to drive effectively through the covers. Nabi in particular was scrumptious through the extra cover region throughout his innings, while also taking runs off the pacers through point when they dropped short. They put up 50 for the seventh wicket and just when it seemed like Ireland were feeling the pressure - the bowlers suddenly looked meek - they were offered a run-out opportunity that they duly took. Asghar was struggling and had no chance as Dockrell's throw hit the stumps on the bounce. In the process, he took a tumble as well and injured the right side of his body, possibly in the bicep region.

But soon enough, the pressure was back on Ireland. Nabi and Rashid didn't look for any consolidation, sticking to targeting the straight boundaries until the 45th over. At that point, they took Rankin for three boundaries and showed the first signs of acceleration. Rashid went after Dockrell in the next over as well, carting him over extra cover for six, and pulling to the deep midwicket fence off consecutive deliveries.

But Nabi holed out to long-off and sparked another collapse: 217 for 7 turned to 223 all out at the start of the 50th over.

Chasing 224, Porterfield used a solid start to launch against Aftab in the sixth over. But his three fours in a row were immediately offset when the bowler switched to around the wicket and cramped him with a full ball. Porterfield didn't look pleased at the decision, but his foot had been adjacent to leg stump when he was struck after missing on the flick.

This was Afghanistan's opening, and they capitalised almost immediately. Hero of the chase last match, Andy Balbirnie was the next of that long list of batsmen who were out pushing hard at deliveries from spinners. In Balbirnie's case, it was second ball against Mujeeb, chipping one straight back to the bowler. Two balls later, Paul Stirling, who has swept well all series, dragged his heel out of the crease as he was beaten on a sweep. With toe on the crease, he was adjudged stumped. Inside eight balls, Ireland had lost their best batsmen and were 33 for 3.

Afghanistan had Nabi, their second-highest run-scorer in ODIs, at No. 8 and Rashid at No. 9, both of whom have been in pressure situations across many of the world's best leagues. Lacking that sort of depth down the order, Ireland had no choice but to slow down their scoring massively, unlike Afghanistan during their collapse.

Simi Singh, who has batted in four positions in 13 ODIs, and who didn't bowl on Friday, dug himself into a rut before looking to sweep Rashid to be bowled.

With even Kevin O'Brien struggling to find boundaries, and an ever-slowing pitch, players who normally play supporting roles - George Dockrell, Stuart Poynter - were forced to try and up the rate. In both cases, this meant an easy target for the seamers. Gulbadin Naib's slower ball slid under Dockrell's step-out-and-heave, while Alam's short ball came on too slow for Poynter who chopped on. Soon enough, Rashid had McBrine and in the 32nd over, O'Brien chopped Alam on as well. Tim Murtagh opened the prospect of some drama, putting Alam on a hat-trick next ball, but what we would get was a tame end to a toothless chase four overs later.

Ireland 2nd innings Partnerships

1st31WTS PorterfieldPR Stirling
2nd1A BalbirniePR Stirling
3rd1PR StirlingSimi Singh
4th33KJ O'BrienSimi Singh
5th16KJ O'BrienGH Dockrell
6th8KJ O'BrienSW Poynter
7th6KJ O'BrienAR McBrine
8th0KJ O'BrienJ Cameron-Dow
9th0TJ MurtaghJ Cameron-Dow
10th18WB RankinJ Cameron-Dow