Joyce, bowlers deliver big win for Ireland
Ireland 163 (Joyce 67*, S Zadran 3-20, D Zadran 3-32) beat Afghanistan 104 (Cusack 3-17) by 59 runs
A battling unbeaten 67 by Ed Joyce ensured Ireland posted a competitive total in the World Cricket League ODI, and a combined bowling effort in helpful conditions guaranteed Afghanistan came nowhere near it. After days of rainfall had wiped out the first game in the two-match series of qualifiers, it took hours of work by the volunteer ground staff to ensure the game went ahead. A last minute decision to switch to the reserve pitch because of damage to the run-ups proved wise.
The sides have been the best outside the Test arena over the past three years, and although this was their tenth meeting, it was the first in either of the countries. Places such as South Africa, Sri Lanka, Guyana, Netherlands and Dubai have hosted previous Ireland v Afghanistan tussles.
It was an important toss to win, and Karim Sadiq was happy to have called correctly, especially when Ireland were reduced to 33 for four with the rangy opening attack of Dawlat Zadran and Shapoor Zadran.
"It wasn't an easy wicket to bat on," Joyce said after the game. "I initially thought 220 would be a good score, but after I ran Kevin O'Brien out and we were suddenly 89 for seven, I knew we'd have to get the heads down."
Graft he did, and played one of his most important innings for Ireland in years. Not required by the Sussex T20 side, he has faced just two balls since June 10. He arrived at the wicket with the score on 9 for one, and stayed till the very end.
"It was very slow and nibbly", he explained, "and very difficult to drive. I had to rein myself in from playing that shot, against my natural inclination."
Joyce and Kevin O'Brien knuckled down for a stand of 47 before the big Somerset batsman cut loose with successive hits for a six and a four before departing while attempting a run that never was, to the sharp Samiullah Shenwari. Alex Cusack and John Mooney went without scoring, but Joyce nursed a vital 57 runs out of the ninth and the tenth wicket partnerships with Tim Murtagh and George Dockrell.
"I've played a lot with Tim, and he was a bit nervous starting off, but to get nearly 60 off the last two wickets was crucial."
The total of 163 - Ireland's lowest ODI score against an associate or affiliate - appeared no more than competitive, but a blistering opening spell by Trent Johnston set the visitors rocking.
"Trent didn't bowl a bad ball", said Joyce, "although the wicket was helpful."
If the grass strip was helpful to Johnston, it was positively golden to Alex Cusack, who took 3 for 17 off his only spell of eight overs.
"This is my home ground and I'm used to playing here," he told ESPNcricinfo. "There's a ridge bowling downhill and if you hit it it's great. Today I just aimed at the top of off and hit the stumps twice."
In alien conditions, none of the Afghanistan batsmen showed the steel to stick around as Joyce had done. Najibullah Zadran played some nice shots, while Shenwari mixed defence with aggression before he was run out by Johnston.
Ireland's young spinners came on to mop up the tail - despite two clean sixes by Gulbodin Naib - and send Ireland three points clear of UAE at the top of the 2015 qualifying table.