Ireland 183 for 7 (Balbirnie 60, Rashid 3-37) beat Afghanistan 182 for 9 (Najibullah 42, Afghan 39, Murtagh 4-30) by three wickets
"Maybe their batting is not quite as strong as it has been recently, so as bowlers we've got to help the batters out and try and restrict them to as few as we can," Tim Murtagh, the Ireland fast bowler, had said after collecting figures of 4 for 31 during his side's loss to Afghanistan in the first ODI.
Those were his career-best figures, and just 48 hours later Murtagh bettered them, picking up 4 for 30 as he, along with the rest of the Ireland pace attack, scythed through the Afghanistan line-up, before Andy Balbirnie and Simi Singh stitched together a crucial partnership to set up a series-levelling three-wicket win, consigning the visitors to their first loss of this tour. Opting to bat first in their 100th ODI game, Afghanistan slumped to 16 for 4 before finding some respite via their middle and lower order to finally post 182 for 9.
Murtagh was scathing with the new ball, snuffing out Afghanistan's top three in his first three overs. He pinned Mohammad Shahzad in front with an inswinger, the same method he used in his second over to remove Hazratullah Zazai's middle stump. An edgy Gulbadin Naib became Murtagh's second lbw victim in his third over. When a direct hit from Andy Balbirnie ran Hashmatullah Shahidi out in the ninth over, Afghanistan were in all sorts of strife.
The onus was on captain Asghar Afghan and Rahmat Shah to pull things back, and they did just exactly that. The duo took their time, scoring only 20 off the first nine overs of their partnership, and enjoyed some luck too, with Simi dropping Rahmat at midwicket when he was on 4.
While the pacers benefited from favourable conditions and bowled with discipline, the spinners did their bit as well to keep Afghanistan quiet. Offspinner Simi accounted for Rahmat, ending a fifth-wicket stand that had consumed 18.2 overs. Mohammad Nabi, playing his 100th ODI, began briskly, but was out for 13 off 12 balls when he slashed Peter Chase to third man. It was a well-deserved wicket for Chase, who hit the deck hard, and caused some discomfort with his short ball.
Afghan fell 4.4 overs later, Paul Stirling running him out with a direct hit at the bowler's end. He had made 39 off 82 balls. At this point, Afghanistan had nearly 16 overs to bat out with only three wickets in hand, and Najibullah Zadran and Rashid Khan at the crease.
They added 29 before Murtagh returned to dismiss the scratchy Rashid. Najibullah stepped up his scoring rate, hitting Kevin O'Brien for a four and a six in successive overs from the medium-pacer before holing out looking for a repeat of his pulled six. He had made 42 off 52 balls.
With 3.3 overs remaining, Afghanistan were in danger of being bowled out, but their tenth-wicket pair of Mujeeb ur Rahman and Aftab Alam managed to bat through till the end of the 50th over, finding the boundary twice each while adding an unbroken 22.
In the first over of Ireland's chase, Mujeeb came round the wicket to dismiss captain William Porterfield in the first over with a ball that kept low. But the second-wicket pair of Paul Stirling and Balbirne stepped up and stitched together a 69-run stand, even as Afghanistan bowled a spinner and a seamer in tandem until the 15th over in a bid to choke the batsmen. Afghanistan finally got their breakthrough in the 17th over, when Nabi had Stirling stumped on 39.
With Balbirne in fluent form, Ireland had the upper hand in most parts of their chase, except when they lost three quick wickets to spin in a space of eight overs and found themselves 97 for 4. While Mujeeb teased the batsmen with the carom ball, Rashid unleashed his googly, one of which foxed Kevin O'Brien and had him lbw in the 25th over.
Balbirnie was still there, pulling and sweeping with power. His partnership with Simi was the highlight of the chase, the duo playing patiently against the spinners and making most of their runs via swift running between wickets. With Balbirnie set at one end, Simi was able to take hise time to settle in. During an attempt to take a quick single in the 35th over, Balbirnie slipped near the crease and landed on his elbow, and called for the physio to have a look. Two balls later, he fell to a stunning catch by Najibullah when he edged Rashid to slip. With 39 required with five wickets in hand, Afghanistan sensed a bit of an opening.
Gary Wilson and Andy McBrine fell soon afterwards, leaving Ireland 164 for 7 in the 41st over. Simi was the key man now, and he was playing the spinners with ease. He just needed someone to stay with him, and it was Murtagh, fittingly, who kept him company, the eighth-wicket pair seeing Ireland home with an unbroken 19-run stand in 21 balls.
The deciding ODI - the last match of Afghanistan's tour - will be played at the same venue on Friday.