Ireland 170 for 7 (Balbirnie 62, Rashid 5-54) trail Afghanistan 537 for 8 dec (Stanikzai 145, Zazai 103*) by 367 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
In the world of the Chinese zodiac, 2017 is the year of the rooster. If the first three months of the Gregorian calendar are anything to go by, this is also shaping up to be the year of Rashid Khan. As if he hasn't given Afghanistan team-mates and fans enough to crow about - a record IPL bid, series-winning efforts in T20s and ODIs - Rashid kicked off his Intercontinental Cup career with a five-wicket haul against Ireland on Wednesday to keep Afghanistan on course for a crack at Tests in 2018.
On a pitch that rendered the Irish fingerspin duo of George Dockrell and Andy McBrine impotent for four and a half sessions, Rashid's wristspin was a virile antidote to spice up the final three hours of play on day two. The smoothness with which he set up his dismissals might cause even the most confident Don Juan to sit up and take notes for future conquests.
Rashid entered the Afghanistan attack in the sixth over with the score 10 for 1, Mohammad Nabi having dismissed William Porterfield leg before to a missed sweep in the third over, and spent four overs in the post-lunch session tangoing mainly with Ed Joyce. Rashid nearly plucked Andy Balbirnie with his first ball in the 14th but a bottom edge went through the legs of Mohammad Shahzad at slip. In the last over before the break, he continuously teased Joyce but couldn't dislodge him as Ireland went to tea in a relatively strong position at 67 for 1, scoring at better than four an over.
After play resumed, left-arm wristspinner Zahir Khan was introduced and also began causing problems with his sharp turn and bounce, eventually nabbing Balbirnie for 62 in the 34th over with an inside-edged prod off the pad to Shabir Noori under the helmet at forward short leg. If Rashid has a type that he fancies, it's certainly lefties and the arrival of Niall O'Brien meant he now had two to toy with.
Sure enough, Rashid claimed Joyce in the following over. After defending the first two balls, Rashid sent down a googly that Joyce fanned on as it spun past his drive for four byes. Another attempted drive from the fourth ball resulted in an inside edge just past leg stump. Playing for another googly, Joyce plonked his front foot in forward defense to shield off stump only for a legbreak to strike him in line with middle and an appeal was upheld to send him off for 45.
With the googly firmly entrenched in the minds of the entire Ireland dressing room, Gary Wilson entered and lasted a few overs before falling for 4 when he played for the googly and was defeated by the legbreak. Umpire Ahmed Shah Pakteen judged that an edge carried to Shahzad - who had taken over from a sloppy Afzar Zazai behind the stumps after the 36th over - rather than the ball clipping Wilson's trousers.
O'Brien, who was nearly bowled first ball by Zahir and survived a drop off the same bowler at forward short leg when he still had yet to score, began the 45th against Rashid by lunging forward four times in a row to googlies that beat the outside edge. Deciding to go onto the back foot to another ball pitching on a good length on the fifth delivery, O'Brien was deceived as Rashid went the other way with a legbreak, trapping him in front of the stumps for 17.
In Rashid's next over, Dockrell fell to the googly while playing for a legbreak, lbw for a duck. It forced Paul Stirling to come out to bat having spent the majority of the Afghanistan innings off the field with a left index finger injury that required a splint and prevented him from opening the Ireland innings. Stirling soon found himself jilted much like Rashid's first three manipulative trysts: playing for the googly, done in by the legbreak, defending down the wrong line and bowled without scoring.
The five notches in Rashid's belt helped to redirect attention away from an incident that detracted from Afghanistan's otherwise splendidly dominant performance over the first two days. Just as he had been in Belfast last summer, Nabi was at the centre of controversy in the 21st over for claiming a catch at second slip from Balbirnie off Dawlat Zadran's bowling which replays clearly showed Nabi had grassed before flinging it into the air in celebration.
Balbirnie, on 40 at the time, stood his ground and it took only a few seconds for the umpires to confer before confirming a not out signal. Nabi got into hot water for his actions in the fourth ODI against Ireland in July when photographic evidence showed his entire body was over the rope when attempting to save a boundary struck by Joyce, with the subsequent relay resulting in Joyce being runout. Nabi was reprimanded for breaching the ICC Code of Conduct as a result. On that occasion, the umpires did not catch Nabi whereas the on-field officials in Greater Noida nipped this incident in the bud.
The speed with which Ireland hurtled to 170 for 7 was in stark contrast to Afghanistan's leisurely stroll to a declaration earlier in the day. Captain Asghar Stanikzai ended with a first-class personal best of 145 after resuming overnight on 110. He gave his wicket away seemingly in an effort to hasten toward a declaration, stumped after charging Dockrell. Rashid replaced him at the crease but also fell quickly after a shimmy down the pitch to Dockrell went awry.
Zazai, who had been unbeaten on 11 overnight, took a methodical approach after the two quick wickets and was mostly untroubled in his 154-ball knock. The only blemish on his maiden first-class century came in the 135th over when he edged Peter Chase behind to O'Brien, who took a clean catch diving to his right. Zazai stood his ground on 78 and with the umpires unsure of whether the ball had carried, and without the benefit of access to TV replays, erred on the side of caution.
It only took Zazai four more overs to reach three figures. On 93, he stepped down the pitch to loft Chase's medium pace over mid-off for six, then charged him again next ball and swatted a short delivery through the leg side to bring up his century.
As Zazai took his helmet off to celebrate with Dawlat, who teamed with Zazai for Afghanistan's best-ever ninth wicket stand in the I-Cup with an unbeaten 109-run partnership, Stanikzai waved them in. A few more days like today and Afghanistan may soon be waving goodbye to the Intercontinental Cup and hello to Test cricket.