Centurion Balbirnie thrilled with series-levelling win
Andrew Balbirnie struck a career-best 145 not out. (AFP Image)

After six matches and approximately two weeks, Ireland have finally managed to win a match against Afghanistan. Leading the way was an unbeaten 145 from Player of the Match Andrew Balbirnie, who helped Ireland overhaul Afghanistan’s 256 by four wickets and six deliveries to spare. (READ: Balbirnie century trumps Zadran’s as Ireland draw level)

Balbirnie, who came out to bat at No. 3 and lifted Ireland from the depths of 29 for 3, struck eight boundaries and eight sixes, allowing Ireland to level the series 1-1 after the second ODI ended in a draw. (READ: Gulbadin Naib stars as Afghanistan down Ireland)

“When you go out and bat, you dream of having that kind of knock, so to do it is just great,” Balbirnie said. “We’re a very close team at the moment, we’re in the hotel, spending a lot of time with each other, so just to be able to get that win, we’ll enjoy that tonight, and we’ll go again tomorrow preparing for the next game in two days.”

Ireland’s chase seemed to be falling off track when Kevin O’Brien departed to leave the side in a spot of bother at 49 for 4, and that is when Balbirnie and George Dockrell came together for a 143-run stand for the fifth wicket and ensured Afghanistan didn’t knock the door down.

“I think just stuck to my strengths. I got out sweeping the other day, but I didn’t want to put that in the locker because it’s a strong shot of mine,” he explained. “To bring that out today and play it quite well is good for or me and my confidence.”

The knock not only helped Balbirnie gain in confidence, but also provided Ireland with an opportunity to, for the first time, put Afghanistan under pressure moving forward in the remaining three two ODIs. Ireland were clinical with the ball as well, and had it not been for Najibullah Zadran’s unbeaten 104 off 98 balls from No. 7, Afghanistan were in danger of being bowled out for a target lot smaller.

“Hopefully we’ve got confidence now,” said Balbirnie. “I thought the bowlers did extremely well. The Afghans batted well in the middle, but we managed to drag it back a bit. The guys up top, Tim Murtagh and Andy McBrine, did really well. It wasn’t a perfect performance, there’s still things to work on, but we’re one-all with two games to go and that is great.

“We managed to negate their key threats, which is always the battle with playing Afghanistan who have two high-class spinners… We can certainly play better but to get the first win on tour is great.”

While Balbirnie obviously stood out for his incredible knock, Dockrell played an equally vital hand with a half-century.

“He batted brilliantly,” agreed Balbirnie. “I think he’s been given the role as No.6 because he’s shown he can be a batter in this team. He came in and showed a calm head, he knew what he wanted to do, and that took a bit of pressure off me. That he was about to do that with such ease, it’s a shame he didn’t get to see it through with me, but he played a brilliant knock.”