Ireland 219 for 5 (Stirling 70, Balbirnie 68, Mujeeb 1-26) beat Afghanistan 216 for 6 (Asghar 82, Nabi 40, Dockrell 2-46) by five wickets
Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie made superb half-centuries to drive Ireland to a five-wicket win in the fifth and final ODI against Afghanistan, a result that ensured the series was shared 2-2 with one match having been washed out.
Ireland had crumbled for 114 in the fourth match while chasing 224, so when Afghanistan ended up with 216 for 6 after being put in to bat, the visiting team knew it would have to show a lot more application and nous than it had in the last game. Stirling and Balbirnie delivered that in style. Stirling's 70 off 88 helmed the first half of the chase and Balbirnie's 68 took over for the second half. Stirling, in fact, had looked good for a lot more until an umpiring error cut his stay short. Caught in his crease to a Rashid Khan legbreak, Stirling was struck on the pads, but outside the line of off stump with the turn taking the ball further away when Rashid's appeal for leg before was upheld.
That broke an 81-run stand for the second wicket, and though Ireland were favourably placed at 138 for 2, there was the possibility of Afghanistan's trio of spinners running through the side. Balbirnie stood firm though, and even though he was bowled by Mujeeb Ur Rahman with the target ten runs away, by then he had done enough. Even a mini-wobble - Ireland went from 207 for 3 to 215 for 5 - didn't affect the final result.
The feature of Stirling and Balbirnie's batting was how well they negotiated Afghanistan's spinners. While Rashid and Mujeeb both posed questions and bowled their share of unplayable deliveries, a combination of hawk-eyed watching the ball and judiciously using their feet, and the sweep shot meant both batsmen were safe even when they erred. Rashid, in fact, ended with just five wickets in the series - the fewest he has ever got in a series of three or more matches. Debutant left-arm wristspinner Zahir Khan was good in patches, but strayed in line and length too often and was taken for runs.
Earlier, Afghanistan's total was built on Asghar Afghan's 82 off 111, before he retired hurt midway through the 50th over, limping off clutching his hamstring. Asghar had begun slowly - he was on 8 off 43 at one point - but he hung in and started to open out more in the latter part of his stay. He had hurt his left shoulder in the fourth ODI and was visibly in pain while batting, often holding his shoulder after attempting any shot that required power on the leg side, but he soldiered through.
Tight bowling by Ireland had reduced Afghanistan to 50 for 4 in the 15th over when Asghar was joined by Mohammad Nabi. The two stabilised, and then revived Afghanistan with a 76-run stand. Towards the end, some clean hitting by Rashid (35* off 28) ensured Afghanistan would comfortably pass the 200-run mark.
At the halfway stage, with the ball already taking sharp turn, Afghanistan might have thought that was enough. But they had reckoned without Stirling and Balbirnie's application and skill.
Afghanistan vs Ireland
Afghanistan v Ireland