Balbirnie leads Ireland to historic first Test win

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Six years and seven Test defeats later, Ireland got their first victory in longest format
Islamabad
Six years and seven Test defeats later, Ireland earned their first victory in cricket’s longest format on Friday, beating Afghanistan by six wickets on the third day of the one-off Test in Abu Dhabi.
Set a small target of 111 for victory, Ireland found themselves in a slippery position at 13 for 3 in their fourth innings, but their captain Andy Balbirnie staved off the Afghan challenge with Lorcan Tucker for company to seal the historic win in front of a spattering of travelling Ireland fans. There were tears in the crowd among family members of the Irish contingent when Tucker scurried across for a single to complete the historic winning run in the 32nd over.
While Balbirnie’s unbeaten 58 on a turning surface got Ireland back on track for the win, it was their pace bowlers who set the game up. The trio of Barry McCarthy, Mark Adair and Craig Young shared three Afghanistan wickets apiece in the third innings to make Afghanistan fold for only 218, having started the day at a comfortable 134 for 3. In all, Ireland’s pace bowlers shared 19 of the 20 wickets in the match, only the second time in eight Tests that the team took all 20. They bent their back in warm conditions at the Tolerance Oval to ensure Afghanistan could finish with a lead of only 110, a score that was, in the end, too low.
It was Adair who got the first breakthrough of day three by dismissing overnight batter Hashmatullah Shahidi on 55, trapping him lbw from around the wicket. McCarthy then got a length ball to shape in and rattle Nasir Jamal’s off stump. Young then pegged Afghanistan further back by getting Karim Janat caught at midwicket on 13 and then shattering the stumps of the dangerous-looking Rahmanullah Gurbaz for 46 in back-to-back overs.
At the time, it appeared Afghanistan’s lead would not even cross three digits, but a stubborn lower-order effort from No. 8 Zia-Ur-Rahman and No. 9 Naveed Zadran dragged the team along. Their handy 32-run partnership for the eighth wicket was finally broken when left-arm spinner Theo van Woerkom got a ball to grip and turn, forcing Ur-Rahman to edge one to first slip.
McCarthy then returned intending to close the Afghan innings out. He rattled No. 10 Nijat Masood’s stumps for a duck pair for the match, and the man replacing him, Young, ended Zadran’s stay by flattening his poles, all out for 218 and setting Ireland 111.
The curse of Nelson appeared to be real when Zadran rattled the stumps of Ireland opener Peter Moor and Curtis Campher without either batter opening their account. Nijat then accounted for Harry Tector for 2 when he got a feather touch to the keeper, and Ireland appeared to be losing the plot. But Balbirnie steadied Ireland’s ship, first with Paul Stirling for company after tea, and after Stirling’s dismissal, with Tucker.
Even though Tucker and Balbirnie offered a few nervous moments with their running between the wickets, their confidence grew as the target got closer. Eventually Afghanistan looked to have no answer as Balbirnie reached his fourth Test fifty with Ireland needing less than 20 to win. He remained unbeaten at the other end when the winning run was scored.
Earlier in the match, Afghanistan had missed the chance of setting the tone in the Test after winning the toss and choosing to bat. They had folded for only 155, with Adair taking 5 for 39 in the first innings. Ireland then posted 263 on the back of some middle-order partnerships to take a healthy 108-run lead despite Ur-Rahman’s five-wicket haul. However, when Afghanistan finished day two on 134 for 3, it appeared the game’s balance had shifted, but they could not build on that, losing their sixth Test in nine outings in the process.