Mohammad Shahzad © AFP
Mohammad Shahzad © AFP

In the virtual semi-final of the ICC world Cup Qualifier 2018, Ireland elected to bat against Afghanistan. At one point they seemed to set a target over 250 but pressure created from the Afghan spinners restricted them to 209. Afghanistan won the match in the last over by 5 wickets, qualifying for the World Cup 2019.

Mohammad Shahzad and Gulbadin Naib added 86 to the opening partnership. Shahzad played his natural attacking game, scoring 54 off 50 balls with 6 fours and 2 sixes. At the other end, Naib was happy to stick around. Samiullah Shenwari increased the required run rate with his 63-ball 27. Then Asghar Stanikzai (39*) and Najibullah Zadran (17*) won it for Afghanistan.

However, there was the odd scare. Simi Singh’s triple strike, consisting of the important wickets of Shahzad, Rahmat Shah and Mohammad Nabi, halted Afghanistan’s chase. Simi ended up with figures 10-2-30-3.

Earlier in the match, Ireland were going good as they scored 37 in the Powerplay overs without losing a wicket. Afghanistan had to wait till the 16th over for their first wicket. Paul Stirling top-scored with 55 and put on a crucial stand with Niall O’Brien (36), who was playing his 100th ODI. But the two had a miscommunication that resulted in Stirling’s run out. Kevin O’Brien smashed 41 off 37 in the end overs but could not help Ireland post a competitive total.

Rashid Khan led the bowling attack from the front, picking 3 for 40. He now has 99 ODI wickets to his name and may become the fastest to reach the 100-wicket landmark. Mitchell Starc is currently the fastest to achieve this mark in 52 matches.

Afghanistan have been very fortunate on their road to the final. They had a poor start to the tournament with three consecutive defeats in the group stage. They only managed to win one match, against Nepal. But Nepal came to their rescue when they defeated Hong Kong, which enabled Afghanistan to qualify for Super Sixes.

Once there, Afghanistan defeated West Indies and UAE. However, even at that stage a berth in the final was uncertain for them. Then, just like Nepal, UAE came to their aid, defeating Zimbabwe by 3 runs.

Can they win the final defeating the West Indies once again? Even if they don’t do, however, they have booked their tickets to England for World Cup 2019.

Brief Scores

Ireland 209 for 7 in 50 overs [Paul Stirling 55(87), Kevin O'Brien 41(37); Rashid Khan 10-0-40-3] lost to Afghanistan 213 for 5 in 49.1 overs [Mohammad Shahzad 54 (50), Gulbadin Naib 45(91); Simi Singh 10-2-30-3] by 5 wickets with 5 balls to spare.

Man of the Match: Mohammad Shahzad.