AFGHANISTAN VS IRELAND
Kevin O’Brien slammed the final ball of the Super Over for a six © AFP
Dead rubber, eh? But this contest just refused to die. From twist after twist after twist in the stipulated 40 overs, to twist after twist after twist in the Super Overs, the world could easily do with a few more dead rubbers, if that’s what it needed Ireland to find their fighting mojo back.
Ireland clearly had no business taking it this close. You’d put your money on them to defend 16 off the final over. You’d further expect them to keep out 13 off the three balls, with Asghar Afghan, the last bankable and set batsman having departed. Ideal probability would mean they’d defend five off the final ball. Nope. Rashid Khan was in the mood. Joshua LIttle was under the pump, bowling pressure wides, and staying right in Rashid’s swing-zone, that started with a huge six down the ground off the fourth ball and then an uppish carve over point to take things into the Super Over.
Those two overs
It was no secret that Rashid would be bowling it for the Afghans. It was no secret that he could squeeze a win out of absolute peanuts in the bank to defend. So Craig Young, with a lesser cushion for himself, couldn’t have done any better. He nailed his yorkers, kept them right at the stumps and just didn’t give out length for Mohammad Nabi and Rahmanullah Gurbaz to get under. All they could manage were mistimed singles and twos to manage a total of 8.
It was nearly enough. O’Brien top-edged the first, Paul Stirling nailed the next over cow corner, fell LBW plumb to the third. Harry Tector played and missed the first, miscued the second off the inside half into mid-wicket, and it was firmly into Rashid’s territory. One ball, three runs, and a long-off in place. The loopy floater was thrown up, and KOB hoicked, full-blooded, and cleared that fielder, only just, tantalisingly teasing over him. And Ireland had something to show for in this rivalry after close to seven years.
It started with experimentation
Dead rubbers are usually context-less. Well, not in a World Cup year with the countdown already having begun. So both Afghanistan and Ireland got into the experimenting zone, chopped and changed, gave their bench a game, and were into trying out different combinations.
Naveen-ul-Haq – one such bench-warmer – replaced Shapoor Zadran, and drew blood right away. Stirling was the first to fall, looking to slap a slower length delivery over mid-off, but miscuing it badly enough to find him alright, finishing with a four-ball duck. And then in his very next over, got rid of Andy Balbirnie, whose across-the-line hack was a little too ungainly with the ball skidding under to rattle the stumps.
When the familiar script became a little too familiar
It was O’Brien who got instilled some momentum into the Irish innings after the initial jolts, taking on Naveen for a couple of boundaries, before Gareth Delany got into the act and smashed Mujeeb Ur Rahman for two fours and a six off three consecutive deliveries. But just when the recovery act seemed complete and it looked like Ireland would up the ante, their familiar nemesis struck, again.
Their problems against spin have been well documented through the series, and it was debutant Qais Ahmed who broke this fledgling stand, getting O’Brien to chip a lofted drive down long-off’s throat. Delany’s ploy to attack Rashid Khan didn’t succeed either, falling to an attempted over-positive slap that couldn’t clear cover. And then like always, the middle-order just couldn’t deal with the spin web being dished out, collapsing and losing the next four wickets for just 17 runs to eventually end up with an undercooked 142.
Alas, that undercook was as delicious as it could get.
Brief scores:Ireland142/8 in 20 overs (Gareth Delany 37, Harry Tector 31; Naveen-ul-Haq 3-31) vs Afghanistan 142/7 in 20 overs (Rahmanullah Gurbaz 42, Asghar Afghan 32; Gareth Delany 2-21). Ireland won the Super Over.