The very fact that there was something like Ireland’s super-over win over Afghanistan might have brought a sense of surprise to the cricket-loving public. “Was such a contest even on”? “What were the TRP ratings like”? One feared it was that sort of an occasion, given much of our focus resting with other mighty sides: Australia set to play New Zealand, the South Africans having just arrived in India. And if the general consensus among fans regarding Ireland’s super over win over Afghanistan was that this was a shocker, then it wasn’t too surprising after all.
Not because Ireland don’t have in them to beat Afghanistan. Well, they just did so, hours back! But it could be down to the fact that in this recent series, Ireland haven’t quite been at their best.
Thanks to a sensational and perhaps imperceptible (where Afghanistan were concerned) win, Ireland’s super-over win over Afghanistan accounted for the only away T20 win for the visitors in this new year.
For starters, playing Afghanistan, who were hosting the Andy Balbernie-led side, in India, cannot come easy. Make no mistake. This is a team featuring some modern stars who’ve quickly risen to feature among the highly-rated names in the great game, having once been just minnows who were expected to take their own sweet time to rise to the fore. There’s Rashid Khan. There’s Mujeeb Ur Rahman. Then there’s the rising Najibullah Zadran.
Want more? The likes of Asghar Afghan and Mohammad Nabi need no introduction. Yet, on the opposite side were talents that had only recently found themselves tested to the very core: during their away series to the West Indies where Balbernie and men found them on the wrong side of the result during the ODIs, winning 1 T20 and losing the same number in the drawn-outing in the briefest format.
But truth be told, for as long as Ireland will play cricket, one of the most dramatic and thrilling moments of their T20 game would always be worthily attributed to their incredible performance at the Greater Noida sports complex, in Delhi NCR.
With 9 needed off the super over, after Ireland, batting first failed to restrict a buoyant Afghanistan to under 142, despite fashioning a sensational middle-order collapse for Rashid’s men, it was all down to the wire.
As 3 were needed off the final ball, a stunning leg before by none other than ace spinner Rashid put the dangerous Paul Stirling on his way back, it was up to Kevin O’Brien to turn the course of the tide, one that frankly speaking never really looked that promising from Ireland’s point of view.
And there came the belter of the moment, precisely in the ultimate moment of the match with both sides feeling the nerves. Another loss here would’ve meant a horrible turnout for Balbernie’s team; who wants to have something like a 3-nil whitewash, regardless of the format.
So Ireland had to hope, perhaps against hope, to avoid the embarrassment. Something had to give!
But then Cricket appears a batsman’s game and a bowler’s nadir when big-hitters like Kevin O’Brien- and few in Ireland’s team have been as mercurial and devastating consistently over the years- get going.
But before the belligerent strike executed at a gun-barrel straight range over long-on took Ireland over the ropes, it was a special Naveen-ul-Haq show, the star of the match, who courtesy, his 3 for 12, restricted Ireland to a not so threatening score. Previously, the 20-year-old from Kabul had gone wicketless.
Ireland’s most handy batter was Dublin-born Gareth Delany who powered 37 (off 29) of his side’s 142. Meanwhile, the star of the eventual thriller, Kevin O’Brien did seem threatening, firing a strokeful 26 off just 21 earlier.
Afghanistan’s batting wasn’t too threatening on a day where the most one could contribute was the senior pro Aghan making 32 off 30, but finding the need to stay put for 5 straight overs with wickets tumbling all aroud him.
But truth be told, given the uncertainty surrounding Ireland’s super over win over Afghanistan, the fact that the victor’s of the final T20 had lost 2 conescutive games before, one mustn’t undermine the importance of the win.
And that the big six came off arugably against one of the best bowlers around and easily among the hardest to get runs off from, the scenario beckons a straightforward question:
Where were you when Ireland’s super-over win over Afghanistan rattled the ‘hosts,’ preventing perhaps a highly likely T20 series whitewash?