Bowlers build on Zazai blitz to make it 1-0 Afghanistan
Joshua Little shows promise for Ireland with 2 for 20, but home side fall 17 short in first T20I
Afghanistan 160 for 7 (Hazratullah Zazai 74, Asghar Afghan 31, Mohammad Shahzad 29, Joshua Little 2-20) beat Ireland 144 for 9 (Paul Stirling 27, Gary Wilson 34, Rashid Khan 3-35, Mujeeb Ur Rahman 2-14, Fareed Ahmad 2-29) by 16 runs
18 overs a side
Two young men who had played a combined three T20Is before Monday's contest between Ireland and Afghanistan at Bready served notice of potentially bright futures. Hazratullah Zazai's 33-ball 74 had turbo-charged Afghanistan before Joshua Little's 2 for 20 in four overs reined them in, but the visiting team's 160 for 7 in a rain-shortened match still proved too many for Ireland. An hour's delay due to rain had reduced the first T20I of a three-match series to an 18-over affair, but that was enough for Afghanistan to show their superiority. Afghanistan have now won their last six T20Is against Ireland, with the home side's last win coming in November 2013. The 20-year-old Zazai had been in good form this year, with a List A strike-rate of 160.74 in five games, and he showed that the move to bring him in for just his second T20I - almost two years after an uninspiring international debut - was the right call. After a fairly brisk start in which 28 came off the first three overs, Zazai kicked into a higher gear with three fours off Peter Chase in the fourth over, and exploded for 23 runs in Tyrone Kane's second over. The hapless Kane couldn't get his length right, and Zazai deposited him beyond the boundary on the leg side three times in the over, cutting for four too for good measure.
Zazai's almost baseball-style hitting raised a half-century off just 22 balls, and he carried on biffing. After seven overs, Afghanistan had raced to 87 without loss, 74 of those coming off Zazai's blade.
Ireland may have mis-read the pitch, tempted by the combination of steady rain in the lead-up to the match and cloud cover. But they didn't help their cause with some poor lengths and little variation. Only the introduction of Simi Singh's offspin brought some respite. Singh made the key strike, getting Zazai caught behind when the ball brushed his glove on an attempted sweep. Captain Gary Wilson did very well to move across and latch on to the ball. Once Zazai had gone, Afghanistan lost momentum drastically. Mohammad Shahzad mixed his customary big hits with dot balls, but his fitness seemingly cost him his wicket. Asghar Afghan had tapped Little to point and set off for a run. Shahzad was slow to respond and slower to make his ground, with Simi's direct hit catching him short.
Little's three overs between the 10th and 16th then ensured Afghanistan wouldn't have much left for a finishing kick. Unlike his senior team-mates, Little found the right length, and mixed things up. The batsmen could never line him up, and he was nippy enough that they couldn't simply hit through the line.
While Ireland had done well to concede only 73 runs in the last 13 overs while picking up seven wickets, they wouldn't have an easy chase, especially against Afghanistan's spin trio of Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan. Mujeeb was handed the new ball, and struck in his first two overs, dismissing Stuart Thompson and William Porterfield. Plenty hinged on Paul Stirling and Kevin O'Brien, but while O'Brien was done in by Nabi, Stirling had to go when Aftab Alam leapt in the air at the square-leg boundary and plucked out a ball that seemed headed for the maximum.
By the time Rashid came on to bowl, Ireland were already 60 for 4 in eight overs and facing a required-rate of more than ten. It was a steep ask against any opposition, leave alone the world's No. 1 T20I bowler.
Wilson delayed the inevitable with a defiant 34 off 23, but Ireland were left with too much to do against a top attack.
Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo