Ireland fight back to beat Afghanistan
Nick Royle (Setanta)
Ireland beat Afghanistan by 59 runs in the ICC World Cup Qualifier in Dublin on Thursday.
The result extends Ireland's lead at the top of the World Cricket League to three points, and deals a potentially fatal blow to the World Cup chances of the second-best Associate side in world cricket.
The top two in the World Cricket League qualify automatically for Australia 2015, but the Afghans are six points behind leaders Ireland in the table and have yet to play UAE and Scotland.
Karim Sadiq's side looked to be on course for the two points at the halfway stage of the game, having bowled out Ireland for 163 in 47 overs. But the Clontarf pitch was a bowler's dream for both seam and spin, a fact quickly recognised by the experienced Ed Joyce, who batted for 43 overs for his unbeaten 67.
Joyce has failed to hit a century since his return to Ireland colours in February 2011, but his innings at Clontarf was a masterful, watchful accumulation of runs in difficult conditions.
"That innings was probably the equivalent of 120 not out on a normal wicket," his team-mate Trent Johnston said.
Joyce agreed that the conditions had made batting difficult.
"It wasn't an easy wicket to bat on. Initially when I went in we felt 200 or 220 was a good score, but at 80 for five we were trying to get any sort of total," he said.
The only batsman who looked untroubled was Kevin O'Brien, who hit 6 fours and a six in 32-ball 31 before being run out by Samiullah Shenwari.
A gallant Joyce took responsibility for the dismissal, even though O'Brien was perhaps guilty of assuming that he was running to the safer end.
"Running out Kev, who was the only one who looked comfortable on the wicket wasn't ideal," he said.
"Shenwari's the best fielder they have and we did know that beforehand. But with all due respects, myself and Kevin are not the quickest between the wickets."
In their reply, Afghanistan struggled from the first ball against the Irish bowlers, with Johnston dismissing skipper Karim Sadiq and Mohammed Shazad in his first 15 balls.
Alex Cusack then took 3-17 as Afghanistan were dismissed for 104 in the 34th over.
Johnston barely bowled a loose ball in his eight over spell, and Clontarf bowler Cusack used his home knowledge to dismiss Javed Ahmadi, Asghar Stanikzai and Mohammad Nabi with his inswingers.
The first one-day international against the Afghans on Tuesday was washed out by the rain, with both teams awarded one point.
"We would have liked to have played the other game, but we've got three points from four against a very strong side and if we'd been given that beforehand, we would have probably taken it," Joyce said.
**This report is reproduced by kind permission of the author - follow Nick Royle on Twitter @naroylesetanta - he reports on cricket for www.setanta.com