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Afghanistan 139 for 8 (Nabi 43*, Johnston 2-18) beat Ireland 126 all out (Porterfield 35, Sadiq 3-17) by 13 runs
Mohammad Nabi produced a magnificent allround display to continue Afghanistan's fairytale rise in international cricket with victory over Ireland, in a gripping match at the World Twenty20 Qualifier in Dubai.
In a fluctuating contest, neither side were separated for long until Afghanistan surged to victory with glut of quick wickets at the end. The day began with William Porterfield winning the toss and inserting Afghanistan on a lively pitch in the International Stadium. Trent Johntson, Ireland's evergreen opening bowler, made the most of the bounce available, getting his side off to an ideal start with two quick wickets. Karim Sadiq was bowled in Jonhston's first over before Shafiqullah, lashed out after a couple of dot balls to be caught smartly by John Mooney.
It could have been worse for Afghanistan as a number of chances were spilled before Noor Ali and wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad steadied things with a 47-run third-wicket stand in just under seven overs. At 57 for 2 at the half-way stage the foundations had been laid for a decent total but Shahzad was run out by Mooney for 12 before Ali fell soon after. He was dismissed by a full-length diving catch by Paul Stirling as he tried to flick Andre Botha into the leg side. It left Afghanistan reeling at 69 for 4 with just over seven overs to go.
Nabi immediately arrested the momentum with successive sixes off young left-arm spinner George Dockrell, which was followed by another captain Nowroz Mangal. Though Mangal was stumped the next ball, trying to repeat another heave, the damage had been done with 23-runs from the over. As wickets tumbled around him, Nabi's blend of quick running and occasional boundary swiping lifted the total to 139 and he finished unbeaten on 43 from 25 balls.
As a captain opening the innings, Porterfield had an important role in calming the nerves and setting the tone for the run chase. With a four in the first over and successive, massive sixes over midwicket off Shapoor Zadran in the third, he got off to a flyer. Zadran held his nerve, however, and removed Niall O'Brien off the final ball of the third over. Having already taken 14 from the first five legal deliveries, there was no need for O'Brien to try and smite another boundary, it proved his undoing as he was caught by Ali for 2.
Stirling, Ireland's most promising young player, joined his captain as the two calmly lifted the total to 49 off just six overs. At that stage Ireland looked like they could coast home but Sadiq made up for his earlier disappointment with the bat with a crucial double-strike in the seventh over. First Porterfield was bowled by a sharply-spinning offbeak and then Andre Botha was bowled through that gate from one that came back at him for a duck. Kevin O'Brien and Stirling soon followed as Afghanistan took charge to leave Ireland at 98 for 7, still 41 needed from 33 balls.
Johnston and Mooney then wrestled back some of the momentum, putting on 27 in four overs to keep Ireland in the hunt, before Johnston holed out off a full toss from Nabi to leave Ireland needing 14 from the final six balls. They didn't get close as Hamid Hasan ran out Peter Connell from the first ball and castled Mooney off the second to secure Afghanistan a sensational start in their quest to reach a global tournament.
Speaking after the game Porterfield was very disappointed with the way his side, fancied before the tournament, imploded today. "We lost it all round really. I don't think we deserved anything from the game, the way we went at it," he said.
"We didn't bowl badly but we probably gave them 20 or 30 runs with the amount of dropped catches. But even walking off the field, I would have taken 140, I wasn't too disappointed to be chasing that. Just the way we went about it with the bat wasn't good enough. The way we've been preparing for the last two weeks has been nowhere near that standard, and it wasn't good enough."
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Assistant editor Sahil Dutta grew up supporting England during the 90s. Despite this, he still enjoys the game. His unrequited passions for Graeme Hick and, in latter years, Vikram Solanki gave him a stoicism that guided him through an Economics degree and a stint working at the European Parliament. He maintains the purest love for Tests and the whims of legspin bowling and still harbours hope that he could be the answer to England's long search for a mystery spinner. As it is, his most exciting cricketing experience was planning a trip to Australia for the 2006-07 Ashes with two utterly indifferent friends. Unfortunately his lung collapsed shortly before his planned departure and the pair were left to wander around from Test to Test, unprepared and clueless. Any comparisons with England are far too obvious to make. That cancelled holiday inspired an Ashes blog which led, via some tea-making at the Wisden Cricketer, to the ESPNcricinfo towers.