Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
AUS v WI (1)
BAN v IND (1)
BDESH-W in NZ (1)
Afghanistan 305 for 7 (Shahzad 101, Rahmat 62, Adair 3-71) beat Ireland 179 (Stirling 50, Naib 6-43) by 126 runs
Afghanistan shook off Sunday's drubbing against Ireland and tuned up for the World Cup by levelling the two-match series in Belfast. Mohammad Shahzad led the way with a blistering century, showing off his range, before Najibullah Zadran's unbeaten 60 off 33 balls vaulted Afghanistan to 305 for 7 - the highest total at the Civil Service Cricket Club. Ireland opener Paul Stirling peeled off his fourth successive score of fifty or more, but the rapidly rising asking rate was just too much to overcome for the hosts in their steep chase.
The outfield was rather sluggish because of the wet weather over the past couple of days, but Shahzad's batting was anything but. Shahzad set the scene for the day when he dashed down the track to the first ball and launched it over mid-on. Noor Ali Zadran, who was picked in place of Hazratullah Zazai, chipped seamer Mark Adair to mid-on in the fourth over, but the early dismissal of his opening partner did not hold Shahzad back.
He unfurled a variety of shots - ranging from the helicopter shot to the good ol' slog - and bent Ireland's attack out of shape. Rahmat Shah's solidity proved the ideal foil for Shahzad's ferocity as the pair put on 150 for the second wicket at a run rate of 5.35.
Shahzad was particularly severe on Adair and Barry McCarthy, hitting 48 runs off 32 balls from them. He reached his sixth ODI hundred off 85 balls when he eased Boyd Rankin to fine leg in the 31st over. Shahzad celebrated the landmark by placing his helmet on the bat and holding them aloft, Chris Gayle-style.
Rahmat had needed 13 balls to get off the mark, but soon found his groove when Rankin offered up back-to-back leg-stump half-volleys in the 17th over. Both balls were put away for boundaries. He was also pretty fluent driving on the up through extra cover, but the partnership ended when Andy McBrine had him holing out for 62 in the 32nd over. In the same over, Shahzad, too, holed out, and then by the 41st over Afghanistan were 212 for 5.
Rankin and Tim Murtagh then unleashed a short-ball barrage on Najibullah, but the batsman took them on and swatted them away like flies. He smoked three sixes, including one that sailed out of the ground and onto the road. Hashmatullah Shahidi pitched in with 47, helping Afghanistan ransack 93 in the last nine overs to breach 300.
Ireland had picked an extra seamer in McCarthy at the expense of left-arm spinner George Dockrell, but three balls into his fourth over he sustained a knee injury and hobbled off the field. McCarthy did not return to bowl. Rankin gave Ireland another injury scare when Shahidi stuck him on his right knee with a drilled drive, but the quick recovered sufficiently to bowl his full quota of ten overs.
In pursuit of 306, Ireland lost James McCollum early, but Stirling's rich form and his 48-run stand with Andy Balbirnie gave the side some hope. However, captain Gulbadin Naib hit hard lengths and removed both batsmen to dent the chase. Naib then turned it into a full-blown collapse by scything through the middle order. By the end, Stirling, Balbirnie and wicketkeeper Gary Wilson were the only Ireland batsmen to get to 20 or more, and the hosts were dismissed for 179 in 41.2 overs.
Fittingly, Naib sewed up the victory with 6 for 43 - the best figures by an Afghanistan seamer in ODI cricket. The new captain couldn't have asked for a better lead up to the World Cup.