New Delhi: A glitzy run-a-ball 127 by debutant Rahmanullah Gurbaz and the all-round effort of Rashid Khan became the cornerstone of Afghanistan’s 16-run victory against Ireland in the three-match series. After hosts Afghanistan elected to bat first at Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, it was sheer hard work for Andy Balbirnie’s men until the 22nd over as centurion Gurbaz added 120 runs for the first wicket alongside Javed Ahmadi, providing Afghanistan a solid platform. It was an ill-executed slog from Ahmadi, at 38 off 55, off Andy McBrine that brought the first breakthrough for Ireland.
One strike brought too many for McBrine as Rahmat Shah picked McCarthy at backward square leg to set a collapse in motion. Asghar Afghan, Mohammad Nabi, and Gulbadin Nain were all removed for single-digit scores by McBrine, as they kept finding Kevin O’Brien placed at leg slip, falling in a similar fashion. It seemed that Afghanistan would squander their stupendous start after they were reduced to 161 for 5, however, Gurbaz, who stood unperturbed while wicket tumbled at the opposite end, found some company from Najibullah Zadran, who scored 29 from 43, during his 37-run partnership for the 6th wicket.
During the course of his century, Gurbaz named many firsts to himself: he recorded the highest individual score by a keeper on an ODI debut; became the first Afghanistan player to score a century on an ODI debut. Hitting 9 sixes – another record for an ODI debutant – in his 127-run knock, he reached the quickest half-century (38 balls) as an opener on ODI debut.
Playing his naturally aggressive game, Rashid Khan – who came in after Gurbaz holed out a nothing ball from Delany to Simi Singh at deep square leg – slammed 5 sixes and 2 fours in his 55 from just 30, eventually leading his team to a solid 287 for 9. Much to their dismay, Ireland was guilty of leaking 19 runs in extra, which, too, would prove fatal.
Ireland had their moments and they looked being right on the track of chasing the target down. But losing wickets at the worst moments of the game meant that they fell short by 16 runs in the end. Naveen ul Haq made early inroads as he trapped Kevin O’Brien LBW for just 1, although his dismissal did not flinch Paul Stirling, who looked solid during his 39 from 40 including 6 fours.
Skipper Andy Balbirnie did not make his outing count as he became ul Haq’s second scalp, depositing the medium pacer to Rashid Khan to end his 18-ball outing. Harry Tector (28 from 37) then joined Stirling to add 50 from 63 for the fourth wicket in a phase that entirely belonged to Ireland. Although Rashid Khan ensured that things did not slip away from Afghanistan’s grip, trapping Stirling leg before wicket, only two balls after Gulbadin Naib removed Tector by completing a return catch.
An 86-run stand between Curtis Campher, who scored a sedate 39 from 53 with only two fours, and Lorcan Tucker, who hit three sixes and as many fours en route to his 96-ball 83, put Ireland in a commanding position again. However, Afghanistan yet again managed to claw their way back in as Mujeeb ur Rahman managed to remove Campher, pinning the talisman LBW after he missed to make contact with a length ball.
Simi Singh (23 from 20) stayed alongside Tucker for a brief while, adding 43 from 36, after Gareth Delany fell cheaply to Rashid Khan, however, a failed attempt of charging down the track against Mujeeb ur Rahman led Singh to be stumped by wicketkeeper Gurbaz. Ireland’s hopes were ended when Tucker used his feet against Rashid Khan, to be dismissed in a similar fashion – stumped – and even as Craig Young swung his bat hard, scoring 12 from 11, his team eventually fell short by 16 runs to give Afghanistan a 1-0 lead.