On Friday morning, when William Porterfield won the toss and decided to bat first in the one-off Test in Dehradun, it seemed like a huge advantage for the Irish team. Medium pacer Yamin Ahmadzai was bowling the first over of the match and the lack of bounce in that pitch was quite evident. Due to the overnight drizzle, there was a little bit of dampness around but despite that considering the prospects of spin later in the game, avoiding batting fourth on that wicket was what the doctor ordered.
And when Ireland reached 37 for no loss after the first half an hour’s play, it seemed like a smooth-sailing for the Irish boys.
However, things changed drastically soon after as they lost three wickets in quick successions, within 14 deliveries to be specific. The impressive Ahmadzai was bowling his inswingers with good effect and he was well backed up by Mohammad Nabi initially.
The conditions were not extreme by any means but the tentativeness of Ireland batsmen resulted in their undoing. Paul Stirling, who played some glorious drives in the first half an hour, was the first wicket to fall for Ireland. He was outclassed by a beautiful Ahmadzai delivery, which nibbled away to take the outside edge of the bat through to the keeper. And exactly six balls later, Porterfield was trapped right in front of the stump by Nabi. Basically, he was done in by drift and spin of that ball.
Andy Balbirne, who bagged a pair against Pakistan in his debut Test walked in at No. 3 and looked very nervous. Though here, he managed to open his account courtesy to a boundary off a thick outside edge but a vicious in-swinger from Ahmadzai ended his batting stint for the day.
From 37 for no loss, Ireland were suddenly tottering at 41 for 3.
From that point Afghanistan bowlers were all over the Irish batting as Rashid Khan struck twice in his first over – James McCollum with a googly in his very first ball of the match and Stuart Poynter with a dipping full toss that struck the batsman on the toe. And a few overs later, when Nabi removed Ireland’s only Test centurion Kevin O’Brien, they were in danger of being bowled out before lunch.
However, there was some resistance in the lower order. First George Dockrell battled it out to survive till the Lunch and later Tim Murtagh, batting at No.11 showed a lot of character.
The Dockrell-Murtagh last wicket partnership added 87 valuable runs for Ireland as they managed to reach 172 after being reduced to 85 for 9. The duo applied themselves at the crease and showed rest of his teammates in the dressing room, how to play in these conditions. In hindsight, the wicket too was eased out for batting in the second session.
During that partnership, Murtagh was the aggressor whereas Dockrell was happy to take singles when available. Their experience of batting higher up the order for their respective county teams was evident in their footwork. Also, both made good use of the crease, which helped them to tackle Rashid and Co.
Eventually, Ahmadzai broke the partnership with an out-swinger, which found the edge of Dockrell’s bat before ending up in the gloves of keeper Ikram Ali.
“I think it was slightly damp and bit tacky [early]. [That’s why] it spun a bit more. Then as it dried out, it became lower and slower,” says Murtagh who top-scored for Ireland in the innings with an unbeaten 54.
“We were hoping to get 250 plus at least knowing that it had a lot of cricket during the course of the T20I and ODI series. Having not to bat last is definitely an advantage here, but we have given that back to a little bit,” the 37-year old Murtagh further added.
Now with Afghanistan trailing by just 82 runs with 8 wickets still in the bag at Stumps on Day 1, the onus is on the Ireland bowlers to keep the team in the hunt by taking early breakthroughs in the morning session of Day 2.