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Nabi, Shahzad seal Afghanistan’s 3-0 whitewash

CricketNabi, Shahzad seal Afghanistan's 3-0 whitewash

Bowlers and records were all over the place in Greater Noida as Afghanistan trumped Ireland by 28 runs to seal a 3-0 whitewash in a 438-run slugfest, taking their unbeaten streak to a record 11 games in T20Is. Two of Afghanistan’s most destructive batsmen, Mohammad Shahzad and Mohammad Nabi, thrashed scintillating fifties to set up Afghanistan’s 233 for 8, their highest T20 total. Ireland scrapped and fought their way back but in the end, found themselves short of firepower and the target.

Shahzad set the ball rolling, getting to his fifty one ball after the Powerplay, off just 27 balls. The bowlers’ lines were far too wide, but the strength of his bottom hand didn’t leave them much choice. Shahzad struck six fours and five sixes, but his first boundary – a cut through backward point – may have been the sweetest for it took him past Virat Kohli as the format’s fourth-highest run-scorer.afghanistan

By the time he was dismissed in the 13th over, Ireland’s bowlers found their rhythm, reducing Afghanistan from 97 for 1 to 121 for 5. Legspinner Jacob Mulder earned two wickets in three balls. A cameo, at best, would take Afghanistan close to 200. The 14th over went for seven runs, and that worst-case total lowered.

In the next over, Nabi stepped out and skewed a mow that just cleared long-on. If the boundary was a metre longer, Nabi was undone by flight. But, the small dimensions meant Nabi had the security of productive mis-hits. He hardly mis-timed a ball thereafter though. Bowlers repeatedly missing their yorkers played into his strengths, and his confidence, power and timing did the rest. When he was done clobbering them, with 89 off 30, he had the highest score by a No. 6 or lower in T20Is.

Afghanistan plundered 104 with at least two boundaries in each of the last six overs. Barry McCarthy conceded 69 runs in his four overs, the most expensive figures in T20Is. Even though Kevin O’Brien returned 4 for 45 to control some of the damage, it seemed like Ireland’s house had blown away.

It hadn’t yet. Paul Stirling and then Stuart Thompson broke the game open with the joint-highest Powerplay score in T20Is, as Ireland scored 91 to equal Netherlands’ total against them during the World T20 in 2014. Apart from abetting Ireland by overstepping, Shapoor Zadran’s lines were wayward and his variations were predictable. Stirling was dropped twice off consecutive deliveries, and had scurried to 49 off 19 before flicking Zadran to deep square leg.

Thompson struck two fours and five sixes in his 43, but was bowled off left-arm spinner Amir Hamza in his bid to keep Ireland’s momentum going. A few tidy subsequent overs meant Ireland were always behind the required rate, with the opposition’s best bowler still unused.

Gary Wilson kept Ireland interested with a quickfire fifty; so much so that at the end of 18 overs, Ireland were four runs ahead of where Afghanistan were. However, Rashid Khan, bowling the 19th over, took three wickets to end Ireland’s spirited fight.

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