Somerset spinner George Dockrell returned superb figures of 4-35 to reach 50 wickets in one-day internationals and set up a thrilling Ireland victory by three wickets over Afghanistan yesterday (Saturday).
Dockrell’s wickets helped restrict Afghanistan to 180 all out off 44.2 overs, with former Somerset T20 player Kevin O’Brien chipping in to dismiss top scorer Javed Ahmadi for 81.
In reply, Ireland recovered after losing their first three wickets for 29 runs, but after Sussex’s Ed Joyce had made 51and O’Brien 30, they collapsed to 129-7 at the end of the 31st over, Ahmadi enjoying an excellent all-round match with figures of 4-37.
But although wickets had fallen, there was plenty of time left in the game for Ireland to get the remaining 52 runs required with 19 overs still to be bowled. The situation called for calm heads and an excellent unbroken and patient partnership in 12.2 overs by spinner Andy Balbirnie (31*) and fast bowler Alex Cusack (26*) inched Ireland to victory.
The result takes Ireland to the top of the table in this Dubai Triangular Series, which is being played as a warm-up for next month’s ICC World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Earlier Dockrell struck with the first ball of his second over, flighting the ball up to Nasir Jamal who hit it straight to Niall O’Brien at mid-off for 8. With that wicket, Afghanistan slipped to 59-3 – an important breakthrough after they had raced to 48-2 from their first 10 overs.
Dockrell struck again with the final ball of his fifth over as Afghan skipper Mohammad Nabi came down the pitch and drove the ball on the up straight back to the Irishman who clung on to make it 81-5. Dockrell finished his first spell with figures of 5-0-17-2.
A dangerous 49-run partnership for the sixth wicket between Ahmadi and Najibullah Zadran then threatened to take the game away from Ireland, with both men hitting Dockrell on his return to the attack over long-off for six. Ultimately Ahmadi edged a ball from Kevin O’Brien onto his stumps to reduce Afghanistan to 130-6.
Zadran (45) with support from the tail batted for another 10 overs to ensure their side would have a total to defend, but Afghanistan lost their final four wickets for just 14 runs, with the last three falling with the score on 180.
Dockrell took the last two wickets with the first two balls of the 45th over. First he bowled Hamid Hassan with a flighted delivery which spun and hit the top of the offstump.
His fourth wicket, his landmark 50th in one-day internationals, came when he trapped Aftab Alam lbw on the backfoot with another flighted ball.
In reply after that mid-order collapse to 129-7, Ireland were indebted to Balbirnie and Cusack who were happy to take ones and twos and not force the pace to set up a nerve-wracking but morale-boosting victory ahead of the World Cup.
Eventually, with the match all but won, Cusack stroked three consecutive boundaries off Dawlat Zadran to level the scores in the 43rd over.
This was Dockrell’s 40th one-day international for Ireland, since he made his debut against the West Indies in Kingston in April 2010. His 50 wickets have come at a respectable average of 26.9 with a best return of 4-24 against Scotland in Belfast in September 2013.
There was another landmark in the Ireland side with Kevin O’Brien becoming his country’s leading one-day run scorer of all time.
Ireland next take on Scotland, featuring Somerset’s Josh Davey, in the next match of the tri-series at the same venue tomorrow (Monday).
Afghanistan v Ireland scorecard: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/810827.html