Captain Andrew Balbirnie snapped Ireland’s eight-match losing streak in T20I after beating Afghanistan by seven wickets in the first of five T20Is at Belfast with just one ball remaining.
Chasing 169, Lorcan Tucker and Balbirnie (51) hit quickfire half-centuries before Harry Tector (25 not out off 15 balls) and George Dockrell (10 not out off five balls) took Ireland over the finishing line.
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Electing to bat first after winning the toss, opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz hit three boundaries to get the visitors moving. Gurbaz perished in the very next over though, swatting a Barry McCarthy delivery to Harry Tector at mid-off to depart for 26.
Usman Ghani and Hashmatullah Shahidi put aside that setback to keep the scoreboard ticking along, building a partnership that took Afghanistan to 75-1 after nine overs. But Dockrell dismissed Shahidi as he top-edged a delivery safely into the hands of Paul Stirling at short fine leg for 11.
Ghani advanced to his fourth T20I half-century, helping Afghanistan past 100. But spin brought another breakthrough for Ireland as Gareth Delany struck with the last ball of the 14th over, with Najibullah Zadran top-edging the leg-spinner to McBrine at backward point.
That triggered a slide for Afghanistan’s middle order as four wickets fell in as many overs to leave the visitors at 134-6 after 17 overs. McCarthy accounted for Rashid Khan in the penultimate over for two. But Mark Adair took some punishment from Ibrahim Zadran in the final over of the innings, conceding 16 runs off three consecutive deliveries in a 21-run over as Afghanistan finished on 168-7.
In response, Balbirnie looked in fine touch from the get-go, swivel-pulling Fazalhaq Farooqi from the final ball of the third over to move 19 off just 10. Paul Stirling, playing in his 300th T20, was watchful to begin with, seeing off a Naveen-ul-Haq maiden in the powerplay. But he eventually found his feet, smashing Azmatullah and Naveen for sixes as Ireland motored to fifty inside six overs.
Stirling eventually departed for 31 to Mohammad Nabi, but Ireland remained in control as Tucker and Balbirnie motored along, with the latter reaching his half-century from 34 balls at the end of the 14th over. Balbirnie then swept Mujeeb Ur Rahman straight to Najibullah in the deep to depart for 51 and, and some overs followed to leave Ireland requiring 41 from the final four overs.
Tucker advanced to a half-century from just 31 balls, but Naveen accounted for him at the end of the 18th over, leaving Ireland in serious trouble.
Tector, having started slowly, delivered a timely six-over deep mid-wicket off Farooqi in the penultimate over, to leave the equation at 13 runs off the final over. A boundary from Tector eased the pressure, and Dockrell hit consecutive boundaries to seal a thrilling victory for Ireland.
Brief Scores: Afghanistan 168-7 in 20 overs (Usman Ghani 59, Ibrahim Zadran 29 not out; Barry McCarthy 3-24, George Dockrell 2-7) lost to Ireland 171-3 in 19.5 overs (Andrew Balbirnie 51, Lorcan Tucker 50; Mujeeb Ur Rahman 1-22) by seven wickets
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