Afghanistan 136 for 5 (Nabi 49*, Najubullah 40*, Rankin 2-39) beat Ireland 132 for 6 (Dockrell 34*, Poynter 31*, Nabi 2-16, Rashid 2-21) by five wickets
History should have little bearing on T20 encounters but Afghanistan have managed to debunk that truism when they meet Ireland, this time edging them by five wickets and four balls to spare, to extend their unbeaten run against them dating back to 2013.
Even so, it nearly wasn't, as Afghanistan batted like staunch believers in Sigmund Freud's theory about society's deeply repressed death wish. Asghar Afghan, having promoted himself to open, chased a wide one to cover before his partner Hazratullah Zazai hammered a pull flat and hard down deep square leg's throat only a ball after Stuart Thompson was moved there. The slide had just begun as Karim Janat miscued a pull high up to a ball that wasn't short enough and Samiullah Shinwari holed out to long-on to hand Ireland the Powerplay on a platter. When Sharafuddin Ashraf became the fifth wicket to fall with the score on 50, the remaining 83 seemed a distant climb.
Fortunes switched mysteriously as Thompson walked off the field clutching his hamstring in the 11th over, and then in the 15th, Mohammad Nabi, batting on 18, survived a loud lbw appeal in the absence of DRS. As luck would have it, the next over produced 15, courtesy two fours and a six. By now, Afghanistan had also found an ally in dew, which meant the Ireland bowlers were left struggling with a wet ball.
To their credit, Nabi and Najibullah Zadran began with rotating the strike intelligently to keep Afghanistan in the hunt, and when boundaries started flowing, there was no stopping them, as they romped home with Nabi unbeaten on 49 and Najibullah unbeaten on 40.
Earlier, Ireland had Stuart Poynter and George Dockrell to thank for a dramatic recovery of their own. The pair added an unbeaten 67 off 50 balls to lift the visitors to 132, which gave them a semblance of hope. But before that the three Afghanistan spinners, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Nabi and Rashid Khan wreaked havoc, combining to claim five wickets for just 57 in the 12 overs. Nabi was the pick of the bowlers with 2 for 16, ensuring that Mujeeb's good work in the Powerplay that had asphyxiated the scoring and accounted for Kevin O'Brien wasn't in vain.
Rashid was introduced in the 12th over but he didn't have to wait long to strike, taking two in the space of three balls in his very first over. Though he got no further reward, he was miserly as ever, and in the end, despite Poynter and Dockrell's valiant fight, 132 didn't prove enough.