Ireland’s spinners combined to restrict Afghanistan to 216-6 in the final ODI at Dehradun, before half-centuries from Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie ensured their side a share of the series’ spoils.
Ireland captain William Porterfield won the toss and elected to field against a much-changed Afghanistan, and though the recalled Mohammad Shahzad struck the very first ball of the game for six over long-on, Tim Murtagh hit back three deliveries later, having the wicket-keeper caught at mid-off.
While Boyd Rankin took the new ball from the other end, between them Ireland’s two seamers were tasked with bowling just 11 overs, with the spin quartet of Andy McBrine, George Dockrell, James Cameron-Dow, and Simi Singh combining well to deliver the rest.
It was spin that brought the end of the second-wicket partnership between Javed Ahmadi and Rahmat Shah, who had taken Afghanistan out of the Powerplay without further loss. McBrine, who had conceded just three runs off his first two overs, bowled Ahmadi with the third delivery of his third, and had a huge caught-behind appeal turned down next ball as well.
Dockrell would go one better a few overs later, removing Rahmat Shah and Samiullah Shinwari in consecutive balls to leave Afghanistan 50-4.
The former had been becalmed in moving to 11 off 40, then pulled a long-hop for six to seemingly get himself going, before mis-timing a cut shot which looped to Stirling at point, while the latter attempted to drive his first delivery only to toe-end an easy chance to McBrine at cover.
Dockrell was a whisker away from a hat-trick as Mohammad Nabi played and missed at his first ball, before the Afghan all-rounder helped his captain Asghar Afghan put together a stabilising stand. Only one boundary came in the next 10 overs as the home side crawled to 77-4, and though Afghan struck consecutive balls for four and six came in the 26th over, another six boundary-less overs followed.
The re-introduction of Murtagh saw another run-scoring spurt, this time via a lofted six over long-on from Nabi and a slower bouncer pulled to fine leg by Afghan, but as Porterfield reverted to spin, so the runs dried up again. Finally, in the 36th over, the pressure told, Nabi attempting to force Singh off the back foot and only succeeding in edging behind.
Najibullah Zadran came and went for seven, Cameron-Dow extracting a little extra bounce and Stuart Poynter snaffling the deflection excellently behind the stumps.
At that stage, the hosts were 143-6 in the 41st over, and Ireland might have hoped to keep them under 200. Instead, a 76-run seventh-wicket stand wrested back momentum.
Fifty-six runs were plundered from the last five overs of the innings, and 32 from the final two, as the pair attempted to match each other stroke for stroke, and though Afghan was forced to retire hurt in the final over with a hamstring injury for an excellent 82, his side went into the break with their tails up.
It meant Stirling and Porterfield’s opening partnership would be crucial, and the pair duly added a half-century to settle Irish nerves. The former was the more aggressive, striking his second ball for four after Porterfield had played out Mujeeb Ur Rahman for a maiden to start the reply, and struck a six to end the Powerplay, smashing Nabi over long-on.
Porterfield was bowled not long after by a googly from debutant Zahir Khan, but that only brought the in-form Balbirnie to the crease, and his half-century broke the back of the chase.
He played sensibly, mostly content to tuck singles, though a glorious cover drive/cut shot one two off Rashid showed what he was capable of. He and Stirling took Ireland to the 30-over mark still one wicket down, and a slog-swept six from Stirling seemed to only emphasise their control.
Instead, it heralded his unlucky downfall, as Rashid pinned him LBW in the next over, although replays showed he was struck outside the line and could consider his demise unfortunate.
Singh added 13 and Balbirnie passed 50 to keep Ireland going, before the former became debutant Zahir’s second wicket of the day, also deceived by a googly and given LBW.
Balbirnie and Kevin O’Brien carried on past 200, and though Ireland suffered something of a late wobble – Balbirnie dismissed for 68 and Dockrell for a golden duck – Poynter tickled his first ball for four to put the seal on an emphatic victory and confirm that Ireland and Afghanistan shared the series.
The series ends 2-2, with Andy Balbirnie named Player of the Series.
The two sides now have four days break before the Test match begins on Friday.