On the back of a strong bowling performance by Dawlat Ahmadzai, Afghanistan yesterday defeated Ireland by five wickets at the Providence Stadium in their warm game, sending clear signals that the team is not to be taken lightly in the ICC World Twenty20 tournament.
Having restricted Ireland to a score of 133 for 9 off their allotted 20 overs, Afghanistan responded with 134 for 5 in 19.3 overs.
After Afghanistan won the toss and elected to field, fast bowler Ahmadzai rattled the Irish top order when he took four wickets for 15 runs in his four overs. Coming off a miserable batting performance on Tuesday in their warm up match against New Zealand, Ireland got off to a horrible start when it lost captain William Porterfield to the second ball of the innings. He was bowled by Ahmadzai without scoring. Ahmadzai struck again in his second over when he had opener Paul Stirling caught and bowled for 6. Ahmadzai struck again in his third over when he uprooted the middle stump of Alex Cusack ending the batsman’s innings at 6 runs. This left the Irish line-up reeling at 22/3.
In his next over, Ahmadzai dismissed Kevin O’Brien for 3 runs leaving Ireland tottering at 30 for 4 after 6.5 overs. Niall O’Brien soon followed his brother back to the dug out when in the eighth over he hit one straight back into the hands of off-spinner Mohamed Nabi, ending his innings at 14.
At this point, Ireland seemed down but not yet out when a classy sixth wicket partnership between Gary Wilson and John Mooney which produced 79 runs helped push the team to 133 for nine. Mooney played a hard hitting innings with three sixes and two fours in his 42 runs off 33 balls, while Wilson contributed 32 runs off 26 balls before his stumps were uprooted by the bowling of Sahpoor Zadran.
Hamid Hassan took two wickets from his three overs while Zadran, Nabi and Samiullah shinwari got a wicket apiece.
In reply, Afghanistan got off to a slow, but stable start with openers Noor Ali and Karim Sadiq hitting some early fours off Ireland’s opening bowlers Peter Connell and Trent Johnston. But the Afghans were soon in trouble when both openers were dismissed in the space of 6 balls for 14 runs each. Mohammad Shahzad later joined them in the dug out after he was dismissed for one.
However, skipper Nowroz Mangal stabilized the innings with 27 runs, during which he hit two maximums. He was stumped by wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien off the bowling of George Dockrell attempting another big hit.
Following in the skipper’s footsteps, right- handed middle order batsmen Asghar Stanikzai and Mohammad Nabi began to attack the Irish bowling and they blasted some huge sixes to all corners of the ground. They put together 66 runs and had taken the team’s score to 132 before Nabi was dismissed going for another huge hit. Stanikzai, however, remained to guide his team home with three balls remaining. He ended the innings with an unbeaten 39 runs off 27 balls, which included two sixes and a four, while Nabi contributed two fours and two sixes in his 28 off 17 balls.
Dockrell and Cusack each picked up two wickets to spearhead Ireland’s attack.