Ireland Men sealed the T20I series against Afghanistan with a thrilling, rain-affected win in the decider at Stormont. Ireland won the toss and elected to bowl first in the final game of the five-match series, making an excellent start thanks to an opening burst from Player of the Match Mark Adair.
After a quiet first over from Josh Little, Hazratullah Zazai looked to have got Afghanistan moving with two consecutive boundaries, the first streakily skewed past point, and the second smoked through the covers. However, Adair struck back, enticing the explosive opener to miscue high into the air, with Simi Singh taking the catch at mid-off. Three balls later, he claimed another, Rahmanullah Gurbaz poking outside off and edging through to the keeper.
Little snuck through a second quiet over before Adair struck again, once more hitting back after a first-ball boundary. This time he was cut through point by Ibrahim Zadran before bouncing out the No.3, a cue-end flying to short third man, where Barry McCarthy claimed an excellent diving catch.
Afghanistan found themselves 26-3 after four overs and took their time to rebuild. The ball only reached the fence once in the next five overs, and that came courtesy of an overthrow reaching the boundary. With nine overs gone, Afghanistan were 42-3, scoring at a tick over 4.5 runs per over.
The tourists changed tack as Simi Singh was introduced, with Usman Ghani, previously becalmed on eight off 21, smashing 20 runs off the 10th over of the innings, with a pair each of fours and sixes giving Afghanistan a much-needed boost.
Andrew Balbirnie turned to Little in pursuit of a breakthrough, and the left-armer obliged. Two short balls dismissed Najibullah Zadran and Mohammad Nabi in the space of two balls, with Lorcan Tucker completing the catches on both occasions. The second was a special effort, with the keeper running forward and taking a one-handed grab inches from the turf to see off the Afghanistan captain.
Once again Afghanistan rebuilt, putting on 29 in the next four overs to lay the platform for the last five overs. However, it was at this point that the rain fell, and with the score reading 95-5, a lengthy delay curtailed the first innings, also lopping off 13 overs from the reply.
That left Ireland needing 56 runs in seven overs for a series win, a last-lap sprint to the finish befitting a contest between two sides jockeying for supremacy. And even in the space of 42 balls there was space for a twist or two.
Afghanistan began strongly, a four and a six bookending the otherwise boundaryless first 12 balls, and after Mujeeb Ur Rahman claimed the wicket of Andrew Balbirnie, pinned lbw, and conceded just six runs from the third over, the required rate had ticked from seven an over to nine an over.
Rashid Khan was introduced and tempted Paul Stirling with a tossed-up delivery. The opener took the bait, but successfully so, smashing high over long-on. When Lorcan Tucker shuffled and smashed the first ball of Mujeeb’s next over up and over the leg-side, Ireland were well on top. But the dismissal of Stirling brought Afghanistan back into it. He holed out off Mujeeb, having become the fourth man in history to the milestone of 3,000 T20I runs during his innings.
Harry Tector punched his first ball, a low full toss, through the covers for four, to ease the Irish nerves but the dismissal of Tucker, mistiming a slog sweep off Rashid, put the game back in the balance.
But it was Ireland who held firm. Some scampered ones and twos brought the requirement down to five needed from four, with a sweetly timed George Dockrell pull shot finding the fence to all but confirm the result. One ball later, victory was sealed with two deliveries to spare, giving Ireland a 3-2 series win.
George Dockrell was named Player of the Series for his unbeaten batting exploits having scored 141 runs across five innings without being dismissed.