Ireland secure emphatic victory over Afghanistan to retain title
Trent Johnston stars with bat and ball in his final limited-overs game
Ireland recorded the fourth-highest total in T20 international history as they defeated Afghanistan in the World T20 Qualifying final for the second year running.
After winning the toss and batting first – as they have done in every match in the tournament – Ireland ran up a formidable 225 for seven off their 20 overs at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
That proved to be too much for Afghanistan to chase down and, despite making a flying start to their reply, they were bowled out for 157 to suffer a 68-run defeat.
Both teams, who were meeting in the final for the third successive time with one win apiece previously, had already secured their place in the first round of next year’s ICC World Twenty20 finals in Bangladesh but there was no sign of Ireland easing off as they ran amok with the bat.
Opener Paul Stirling was man of the match in last year’s final after scoring a 38-ball 79 and he was in similarly destructive mood on Saturday, top-scoring with 76 off 43 balls, including four sixes and eight fours.
He shared in a 68-run stand for the first wicket with captain William Porterfield (27 off 14) to set the tone for the innings.
Trent Johnston also took a liking to the Afghan attack after being promoted up to number four, smashing 62 off 32 balls with four sixes and five fours to help power Ireland to 225.
That left Afghanistan needing to produce something special to reclaim the title, although they looked capable of doing just that as they matched their opponents’ blistering start.
They clubbed 14 runs off the first three balls of the innings, bowled by Max Sorensen, and were 36 without loss after three overs.
Ireland spinner George Dockrell stemmed the onslaught with wickets in both of his opening two overs, including that of the dangerous-looking Mohammad Shahzad for 38 off only 18 balls, but at the end of their six powerplay overs Afghanistan were still in a fantastic position on 76 for two.
They could not keep that run-rate up once the field spread though, and they lost two more wickets in the seventh over, bowled by Alex Cusack, before being bowled out in the penultimate over.
Man of the match Johnston, playing his final limited-overs game for Ireland, took three for 34 to cap a memorable all-round display from the 39-year-old, while Cusack, Dockrell and Tim Murtagh each finished with two wickets apiece for the victors.
Ireland now go on to play in the first round of the World Twenty20 finals in Bangladesh, where they have been drawn in Group B with Zimbabwe, the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands.
The winner of the two first-round groups will qualify for the second stage of the tournament. Ireland will play their three first-round games in the north-eastern city of Sylhet.
Ireland’s first-round schedule at the World T20 finals – Monday March 17th: Ireland v Zimbabwe; Wednesday March 19th: Ireland v UAE; Friday March 21st: Ireland v The Netherlands.