Rashid’s all-round effort, Najibullah’s fifty set up series decider

Afghanistan 132 for 6 (Najibullah 50, Rashid 31*, Delany 3-33) beat Ireland 105 all out (Dockrell 41*, Ahmad 3-14, Rashid 2-21)

A 50-run partnership off 18 balls between Najibullah Zadran and Rashid Khan followed by a collective bowling effort helped Afghanistan level the series, in a rain-reduced 11-over shootout in Belfast. The five-match series is now tied 2-2 with the decider set to take place on August 17.
After rain delayed the start by two hours, Najibullah and Rashid carried Afghanistan to 132 for 6. Ireland then fumbled in their 133-run chase and were bowled out for 105, with Fareed Ahmad taking three wickets and Rashid and Naveen-ul-Haq picking up two apiece.
Afghanistan’s strong start
Afghanistan got the start they wanted thanks to Rahmanullah Gurbaz once again. He took Josh Little for two fours and a six in the first over and followed it up with a four and a six off Mark Adair in the second over to take Afghanistan to 28 in two overs, by the end of which his partner Hazratullah Zazai had faced just one ball.
Ireland continued to hit the hard lengths just like they had done in the previous game and the ploy got them their first wicket: Gurbaz’s attempt to pull a short-of-a-length ball resulted in a catch at short fine leg in the third over. Afghanistan stumbled further when legspinner Gareth Delany struck in the first two balls of the fourth over to remove Ibrahim Zadran and Hazratullah Zazai, giving away just six runs in the over.
Najibullah, Rashid tee off
Najibullah was coming into the game on the back of a match-winning 42 off 18 balls in the third T20I. In the fourth, he was fluent from the get-go, cutting his first ball through backward point for four.

The short ball, however, continued to bring the wickets for the Ireland bowlers: Fionn Hand’s slower short ball had Mohammad Nabi caught at covers in the fifth over, while Delany lured Azmatullah Omarzai into a pull in the eighth over and had him caught at deep midwicket for his third wicket of the day.

Najibullah then repaired the innings and took his chances against Ireland’s attack. However, it was Rashid’s entry at the crease that turned the tide for Afghanistan. After hitting Barry McCarthy for 20 runs in the ninth over, the duo took Delany – whose figures read 2-0-12-3 till then – for 21 runs in the following over. Afghanistan also capitalised on Ireland’s sloppiness in the field on the day – Najibullah was dropped twice and Rashid once.

Najibullah raised a 22-ball half-century and the fifty stand with one blow. Adair then removed Najibullah in the final over of the innings, but the damage was done by then. Rashid hit another boundary off the last ball to lift Afghanistan beyond 130. His strike-rate of 310 is the joint-highest (minimum 25 runs) by an Afghanistan batter in T20Is.

Ireland lose the plot
Ireland required 12 an over to complete the chase and seal the series. And it looked like the experienced Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie were determined to hunt down the target. Both batters got going from the outset as they hit 28 off the first nine balls of the innings. The fun was short-lived for Ireland. After hitting Omarzai for 4, 4, 6 in the first three balls of the second over, Balbirnie gave away his wicket, triggering a slide.

Fareed Ahmad, playing his first T20I in 17 months, made sure Afghanistan did not miss Fazalhaq Faroqi – who has been ruled out of the rest of the series with a side strain – much on the day. He took two wickets in his first over, first nabbing Stirling with a short ball and then getting Lorcan Tucker to hole out with a fuller delivery. He came back in the sixth over to dismiss Harry Tector, leaving Ireland at 63 for 4.

Rashid finally struck in the series after going wicketless in the first three games –  before this series, he had never gone wicketless in two successive T20Is. He bounced back with an all-round performance in this game. He flummoxed Delany with a wrong’un in the seventh over and removed McCarthy in the ninth with a length delivery. When Naveen struck twice in the eighth over, Ireland were 69 for 7. Dockrell briefly marshalled the tail, scoring an unbeaten 41 off 27 balls, but the target was well beyond Ireland’s reach.

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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