Stirling, Balbirnie keep series alive for Ireland
Ireland 265 for 4 (Stirling 99, Balbirnie 85*, Dawlat 2-52) beat Afghanistan 264 for 8 (Rashid 56, Naib 51, Shafiqullah 50*, Murtagh 2-49) by six wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Ireland's hankering for a resistant middle order was finally satisfied by Andy Balbirnie, as the right-handed batsman struck his fourth half-century - an unbeaten 85 off 74 balls - to take them to a six-wicket victory in the third ODI. It was their first victory of the tour and kept the series alive at 2-1 with two ODIs to go.
At least two of Ireland's top three had scored fifties in the first two ODIs. That pattern was quickly erased by Dawlat Zadran who dismissed Ed Joyce and William Porterfield off consecutive overs to reduce Ireland to 24 for 2 by the end of the sixth. But Paul Stirling continued to stand in their way, cutting out the risks early as he dug in to put on 96 for the third wicket with Niall O'Brien (30), and got to his third-consecutive ODI fifty in the process. He put on a further 59 with Balbirnie for the fourth wicket, before falling one run short of another hundred. This time, he missed a straight one from Mohammad Nabi and lost his off stump. His wicket, however, wouldn't bring another collapse. On the contrary, Ireland lost no further wickets. Gary Wilson's run-a-ball 28 did enough to complement his younger partner, who spearheaded the unbroken 86-run stand as he scored Ireland's first half-century from the middle-order in this series. Afghanistan dropped three catches to help Ireland along in the chase, but the neutralization of legspinner Rashid Khan, who went wicketless, will have made them feel most vulnerable. They did have Rashid to thank, however, for keeping them in the game in the first place.
A ten-ball first over from Peter Chase belied the start to come for Afghanistan. Chase and Tim Murtagh made run-scoring difficult for Afghanistan's top order on a slow pitch. By the 11th over, three of them had fallen playing away from the body, and one had swiped across the line. Mohammad Nabi was given the marching orders when Stuart Thompson got a finger on the ball before Samiullah Shenwari's straight drive broke the stumps at the non-striker's end. Afghanistan were reduced to 67 for 5 after electing to bat. Shenwari and Gulbadin Naib's painstaking 30-run stand for the sixth wicket ended nine overs later, leaving Afghanistan's lower order nearly 24 overs to contend with. Rashid and Naib played 16.1 of those and put on 97, getting fifties before falling in the space of four balls. Ireland wouldn't have minded that fight at 193 for 8, but Shafiqullah, who would've come in at No. 7 normally, struck a 28-ball 50 at No. 9 to set Ireland a target of 265.
Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo