Ireland continue winning ways to take 2-0 lead over Afghanistan in Belfast

A disciplined bowling and fielding display restricted the visitors to 122 at Stormont

Ireland 125-5 (19 ovs) (A Balbirnie 46; M Nabi 2-15) bt Afghanistan 122-8 (20 ovs) (H Shahidi 36; J Little 2-18) by five wickets.

After losing seven T20Is in a row to start the summer, Ireland now have two wins in as many games as a lacklustre Afghanistan side were beaten by five wickets at Stormont.

If Tuesday’s win was a case of individuals standing up with the bat, Thursday’s was more of a group effort. It started off with Ireland’s best stint in the field so far this season, the wickets shared around as four different bowlers took two apiece. Josh Little was adjudged the pick of the bunch, earning player of the match honours with figures of two for 18 as Afghanistan were restricted to 122 for eight.

In response, Ireland got off to a sluggish start, notching their lowest power play total of the season of 34 for one, albeit the lack of scoreboard pressure from Afghanistan’s low score negated any pressure. After combining nicely on Tuesday, once again the Pembroke duo of Andrew Balbirnie and Lorcan Tucker combined for the partnership that broke the back of the chase, putting on 65 for the second wicket.

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A double strike from Mohammad Nabi put an inkling of pressure back on Ireland as both Tucker and Harry Tector departed, but finisher George Dockrell punishing Fazaalhaq Farooqi for over-pitching plus some poor Afghan misfields ensured a comfortable win in the 19th over.

Early on with the ball, Little looked in as good rhythm as he’s been all summer, extracting extra bounce and movement off the seam especially when nipping one back on to Usman Ghani’s stumps via the glove.

Barry McCarthy had an expensive start to his spell, conceding back-to-back boundaries, but in general Ireland’s power play effort with the ball was good as Afghanistan lost three wickets in that span.

That allowed Ireland’s middle-overs bowlers, Gareth Delany and Curtis Campher especially, to squeeze and build pressure given Afghanistan’s lack of wickets in hand. Campher induced two false shots into the deep while Delany also picked up two of his own.

Crucially, Ireland avoided the expensive, momentum-changing overs of 20-plus as they didn’t concede more than 12 in a single set of six. They had luck with some dismissals when batters picked out fielders with strong shots, but a series of soft dismissals were also forced by the pressure.

In response with the bat, Paul Stirling struggled to get going as he was bowled by Naveen-ul-Haq but that Tucker-Balbirnie partnership continued to restore confidence in a top order that is now trending in the right way. Rashid Khan was once again nullified as he went wicketless, the sweep again being a good option to him as Ireland withstood the late Nabi-inspired wobble to go 2-0 up in the five-match series.

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist