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Kevin O’Brien 72* helps Ireland draw level

March 22nd, 2017 | by admin
Kevin O’Brien 72* helps Ireland draw level
Afghanistan
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Ireland 224 for 7 (Kevin O’Brien 72*, Wilson 41, Nabi 4-30) beat Afghanistan 220 (Shafiqullah 42, Zadran 41*, Nabi 41, K O’Brien 4-26, Mulder 3-57) by three wickets

Kevin O’Brien fought a hamstring injury to club an unbeaten 72 that helped Ireland chase down a 221-run target with three wickets in hand in the fourth ODI against Afghanistan.

O’Brien had limped off on 9, with Ireland having lost ground after a solid start. When he returned, they were reeling at 130 for 6 with Afghanistan ready to apply the choke through spin. But he responded with a half-century, built on brute force, to help Ireland draw level in the five-match series in Greater Noida.

The effort followed on from his four wickets, three of them in an opening burst that broke Afghanistan’s back after they won their fourth successive toss in the series. That they were lifted to 220 was down to handy contributions from Mohammad Nabi and the lower order.

Crippled by the injury, O’Brien struggled to run between the wickets, leaving him with the sole option of clearing the fence. He did that to great effect on a slow surface no less. He particularly favoured the leg-side boundary with his muscular slog sweeps.

Rashid Khan, Afghanistan’s best bowler of the series, bore the brunt of a few such hits in an 18-run over off the 35th to swing the momentum in Ireland’s favour. Rashid ended up suffering the worst of Kevin O’Brien’s onslaught, conceding 28 runs in the 17 balls he bowled to him.

With Gary Wilson buckling down at the other end, the duo ate into the target with a 66-run seventh-wicket stand that took Ireland to the brink. Wilson picked out deep midwicket off one that skidded on from Rashid with Ireland still 25 away. It could still have been Afghanistan’s game but for Usman Ghani letting one burst through his hands at short third man to reprieve Kevin O’Brien. Unsurprisingly, Afghanistan did not get lucky after that, and Kevin O’Brien sealed the game with successive fours off Dawlat.

Before the late charge, Nabi scythed through the middle order with four wickets. Paul Stirling closed the bat face early and tamely chipped a catch to mid-on off the leading edge to end a 48-run opening stand. Mohammad Shahzad’s lightning reflexes then had William Porterfield stumped after Nabi got one to turn outside off. Balbirnie lost his stumps to one that refused to sit up and McBrine played down the wrong line to one that straightened.

Like Ireland, Afghanistan lost wickets in the early exchanges. With the ball keeping low, Ireland’s bowlers reaped the benefits of sticking to accurate lines and lengths.

Returning from injury, Kevin O’Brien found seam movement and made telling inroads. Off the fourth ball, he pinged the pad of Shahzad, who paid the price for playing across the line of an in-dipper. In his next over, he got one to shape the other way to Rahmat who edged behind for zero, before Usman Ghani, playing his first ODI since 2015, stepped out to a short ball and slashed it to extra cover.

He was denied a fourth wicket when Wilson missed a regulation catch, Hashmatullah Shahidi’s outside edge flying to the right of him. Shahidi was yet to get off the mark, but Afghanistan hardly found respite. The presence of cracks meant it didn’t take long for the spinners to find turn. With the ball occasionally stopping on the batsman, Afghanistan could not play to their boundary-hitting strengths.

Shahidi and Asghar Stanikzai had just about begun to stem the rot with a 46-run fourth-wicket stand when a sharp legbreak from Jacob Mulder sent back the former. Mulder had done a nice job of drawing the batsman into the drive and exploiting the cracks. Shahidi, playing the angle, did not account for the sharp turn from outside off and was bowled.

Mulder then had Gulabdin Naib in two minds and trapped him lbw, and with Andy McBrine sending back Stanikzai and Rashid off successive deliveries in the 24th over, Afghanistan were 83 for 7.

But Shafiqullah mounted a late fightback, dominating an eighth-wicket stand of 59 with Nabi. He dealt with McBrine’s hat-trick ball with a four down the ground to get off the mark, and benefitted from cuts, sweeps, pulls and drives that ensured the score moved along briskly.

Nabi and Dawlat Zadran then joined hands for a ninth-wicket stand of 57 to further frustrate Ireland. Dawlat took his time, scoring 9 off his first 21 balls before breaking loose with a straight six off the left-arm spin of George Dockrell. He was handed a reprieve on 20 when Ed Joyce spilled him at long-on. He used the life to score an unbeaten 41 that pushed the score past 200, but in the end, Kevin O’Brien’s carnage proved too much.

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