Ireland caused something of an upset at the Cobham Oval on Saturday (20 January) seeing off Group D’s early pace-setters Afghanistan in their final league game. Their victory was met with chilling silence from the sizeable contingent of Afghanistan fans who had gathered for a bit of weekend entertainment, but this was a remarkable, fighting victory from Ireland against fellow new-entrants to the Test arena.
Put in, Ireland posted 225/8 in 50 overs, and importantly kept their opponents in the field under a mostly scorching sun for the duration of the innings. Jamie Grassi set things up with a 60-ball 32, Harry Tector, the captain, consolidated with a 62-ball 36 and Graham Kennedy attacked in the death overs, his unbeaten 24-ball 37 bolstering the total. Afghanistan couldn’t really put on a partnership that took it away from Ireland, who kept picking up important wickets. With four balls remaining, Max Neville had Qais Ahmed dismissed, and Ireland clinched the match, bowling out Afghanistan for 221.
Afghanistan, to their credit, scored fairly quickly, but what did them was their inability to keep wickets. Rahmanullah Gurbaz (7) fell in the sixth over and Ibrahim Zadran followed suit after adding 28 with Basir Shah. With Nisar Wahdat providing decent company, Basir went about with intent, and during their 46-run stand, it seemed Afghanistan needed just keep at it with patience.
It wasn’t to be. Basir’s caught-and-bowled dismissal to Varun Chopra was closely followed by Wahdat’s return to the pavilion, Ireland’s captain Tector finding the gap between his bat and pad to have him bowled. At four down for 100, Afghanistan desperately needed a partnership – they got only a brief one. Tariq Stanikzai seemed well set and was playing his shots, but despite that, Darwish Rasooli looked to go big – his disgruntled captain Naveen ul-Haq would later point to his rash shot as the turning point of the match – and he holed out for 11.
The pressure slowly began to rise, and the Ireland bunch sensed it. They were that much more vocal in the middle, that much more intense, the fielders applauding even the easiest stop. The pressure told when Stanikzai, Afghanistan’s best batsmen till that point, was bowled by Tector. Afghanistan were 155/6.
Thereafter, it was a battle of will. Waqarullah Ishaq and captain Naveen seemed to have settled into good rhythm, threading the singles, but Ishaq’s careless run-out opened the floodgates again. The wickets kept falling, and it came down to six runs off the final over, with Afghanistan down to their last wicket. Max Neville started with a no-ball. The free-hit was another wide. Afghanistan were getting extra runs, and seemed set to win it. However, Qais Ahmed misconnected, Kennedy made no mistake with the catch at point, and the Cobham Oval was filled with loud Irish cheers.
In the morning, Ireland seemed determined to put behind their dismal performance against Pakistan. To that end, they didn’t allow Mark Donegan’s early fall unsettle them, with Grassi and Morgan Topping adding a resolute 61 that considerably frustrated Afghanistan. There were worries that old failings would resurface when that stand was broken, with Ishaq dismissing Topping and both Grassi and Sam Murphy following suit in quick succession.
At the time, it seemed Ireland’s good work was undone as they struggled at 73/4. However, Tector was joined by Neil Rock, and their 73-run stand revived the innings, and rejuvenated Ireland. By the time Rock (35) was dismissed in the 40th over, the death overs were approaching and Ireland had begun attacking. Tector fell as well, attempting his hand at a few big hits, but first Joshua Little’s 20-ball 27, followed by Kennedy’s relentless thwacking helped Ireland immensely. Afghanistan were frustrated, and were suddenly dropping catches and making plenty of mistakes.
Kennedy even hammered four fours off the final over sent down by Wafadar to embellish the score. They proved to be extremely crucial runs in the end. Source: ICC Cricket
Story first published: 20th January 2018