Ireland make history with maiden Test victory over Afghanistan

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Abu Dhabi, March 1 (IANS) Ireland clinched their first-ever Test victory, breaking a six-year drought and ending a streak of seven consecutive defeats in the longest format of the sport, beating Afghanistan by six wickets on Day 3 of the only Test, at the Tolerance Oval Cricket Stadium here on Friday.

Facing a modest target of 111 runs for victory, Ireland stumbled early, finding themselves at a precarious 13 for 3 in their fourth innings. However, led by captain Andy Balbirnie's unbeaten 58, supported by Lorcan Tucker's 27 not out, they weathered the storm and overcame the Afghan challenge, sparking tears of joy among the travelling Irish fans as Tucker struck the historic winning run.

While Balbirnie's masterful innings guided Ireland to victory on a challenging surface, it was their pace bowling trio of Barry McCarthy (3-48), Mark Adair (3-56), and Craig Young (3-24) that set the stage for the triumph. Combining forces, they dismantled the Afghan batting lineup, sharing nine crucial wickets in the third innings, restricting Afghanistan to a modest total of 218. Adair's pivotal breakthroughs, McCarthy's precision, and Young's incisive bowling laid the foundation for Ireland's success, limiting Afghanistan's lead to just 110 runs. Despite a stubborn lower-order resistance, Ireland's disciplined bowling ensured they were tasked with a manageable target, one they pursued with determination and focus.

Earlier in the match, Afghanistan squandered the opportunity to assert dominance after winning the toss, crumbling for a mere 155 runs in their first innings. Adair's stellar performance with the ball, claiming five wickets, and Paul Stirling's valiant 52 runs set the tone for Ireland's strong reply, posting 263 runs to seize a commanding lead of 108 runs. Although Afghanistan showed promise with the bat on Day Two, reaching 134 for 3, they faltered under pressure, succumbing to Ireland's relentless pace attack and suffering their sixth defeat in nine Test outings.

Day Three saw Adair make the first breakthrough as he trapped overnight batsman Hashmatullah Shahidi leg before wicket at 55. McCarthy then managed to form and rattle Nasir Jamal's off stump with a length ball. After that, Young further weakened Afghanistan by having Karim Janat caught at midwicket on 13 and breaking the dangerous-looking Rahmanullah Gurbaz's stumps for 46 in consecutive overs.

When it looked like Afghanistan's lead would not even reach three figures, No. 8 batter Zia-Ur-Rahman and No. 9 Naveed Zadran's tenacious lower-order efforts carried the team forward adding 32 runs to the score. Finally, left-arm spinner Theo van Woerkom got a delivery to grip and turn, forcing Ur-Rahman to edge one to first slip, ending their useful 32-run stand for the eighth wicket. McCarthy then made his way back to terminate the Afghan innings. He rocked No. 10 Nijat Masood's stumps for a pair of ducks to win the match, and Young, who came in for him, flattened his poles to finish Zadran's innings, letting Ireland reach 111 all out.

The Ireland chase started with Naveed Zadran rocking the stumps of opener Peter Moor and Curtis Campher without either batsman opening their account. Then, with a feather touch to the keeper, Nijat accounted for Harry Tector for 2, and it looked like Ireland was losing the plot. But Balbirnie steadied Ireland's ship, first with Tucker after Stirling was fired and then with Paul Stirling for company after tea.

Tucker and Balbirnie's sprinting between the wickets caused a few stressful moments, but as the objective drew nearer, their confidence increased. Eventually, with Ireland needing fewer than 20 to win, Balbirnie reached his fourth Test fifty as Lorcan Tucker hit the winning runs for Ireland.

Brief scores:

Afghanistan 155 and 218 all out in 75.4 overs (Hashmatullah Shahidi 55, Craig Young 3-24, McCarthy 3-48, Adair 3-56) lost to Ireland 263 and 111/4 in 31.3 overs (Andy Balbirnie 58*, Lorcan Tucker 27*, Naveed 2-31) by six wickets.