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Najibullah, Rashid take side over the line in rain-marred contest

06 Mar 2020 CricBuzz

Najibullah Zadran made the definitive pull in this tug-of-war contest to swing it in favour of Afghanistan, who found themselves ahead on DLS when rain put a stopper on their chase of 173. After a mini-collapse that left them reeling on 70/4, Najibullah (42*) regained control along with Samiullah Shinwari (28), leaving Afghanistan primed to win the first T20I against Ireland even if rain hadn't handed it to them.

Unlike Najibullah though, Ireland had no one to keep them on the boil once they started losing steam after a strong start having opted to bat in Greater Noida. Chasing their first win over Afghanistan in over six years, Paul Stirling and Kevin O'Brien came determined to overturn some torrid memories of playing Afghanistan in India. However, Rashid Khan - who didn't come on until the 11th over - turned the tide completely with a spell of 3/22, thus cutting Ireland's tall ambitions and keeping them to a gettable score.

Rain, you say? Did Ireland have a chance if the match had gone ahead?

Yes, they did, considering they had just broken through the 63-run fifth-wicket stand by getting rid of Shinwari for a sedate 28. But with 40 needed off 30 balls and Najibullah still out there looking in ominous touch, Afghanistan were definitely favourites. And that's not even accounting for the power-hitters they had to follow in the form of Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib and Rashid Khan.

How crucial was Najibullah really?

So Afghanistan had also got off to a flying start, much like Ireland. The hosts raced to 50/0 in just four overs from where their chase shouldn't have been too much of a problem. But it was.

Offspinner Simi Singh got rid of both Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Hazratullah Zazai, who were responsible for Afghanistan's early blitz. He then even played a part in the run-out of captain Asghar Afghan, who went without facing a ball. And just like that, Afghanistan went from 54/0 to 55/3. When Karim Janat's laborious stay ended for six off 12 balls, Ireland could've even claimed to be on top.

But Najibullah ensured their ascendancy was temporary. He quickly found his rhythm, aided by a couple of freebies from legspinner Gareth Delaney, and never looked back once he put those away for back-to-back boundaries.

His power game unsettled the experienced George Dockrell, while Boyd Rankin - who was tonked over long-on - wasn't spared either. With Najibullah going at a rate of knots, eventually ending on an unbeaten 42 off 21 balls, it allowed Shinwari to bide his time at the other end as Afghanistan regained control.

And Ireland missed that kind of impetus earlier?

Precisely. The game was set up beautifully for them by Kevin O'Brien and Paul Stirling. The duo had put Mujeeb Ur Rahman to the sword in the powerplay, taking his three overs for 39 as Ireland dashed to 63.

But it was with Mujeeb only that Afghanistan's comeback started. He removed Kevin O'Brien with the final ball of the powerplay.

Stirling did well to maintain his tempo in raising a half-century, but things would only get a whole lot trickier for Ireland. You see, Rashid had held himself back for the final 10 overs. And once he came on, it was a struggle for Ireland to get him away. Forget about the rest, even the well set Stirling struggled and was eventually dismissed off a top-edge after a couple of his miscues landed in gaps.

With the Afghanistan talisman taking control, Ireland's downward curve was never broken, even as they tried to feast on the others. Where they had scored 63 in the first six, they could only manage 109 in the last 14, which proved a bit too light on a good pitch.

Brief scores: Ireland172/6 in 20 overs (Paul Stirling 60, Kevin O'Brien 35; Rashid Khan 3/22) lost to Afghanistan133/5 in 15 overs (Najibullah Zadran 42*; Simi Singh 2/18) by 11 runs (DLS method).

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Original Link: https://www.cricbuzz.com/cricket-news/112606/najibullah-rashid-take-side-over-the-line-in-rain-marred-contest

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