Andy Balbirnie, James McCollum make Afghanistan toil



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Lunch Ireland 172 and 124 for 2 (Balbirnie 73*, McCollum 35*) trail Afghanistan 314 by 18 runs

It was quite the session for Ireland on the third morning in Dehradun. They lost just one wicket for the addition of 102 to narrow down the deficit to 18. They also had eight wickets remaining, a lunch-time prospect they would’ve gladly taken. Yet, it could’ve been much better had Paul Stirling not fallen victim to a poor lbw decision from umpire S Ravi in the fifth over on Sunday.

The star of the morning was Andy Balbirnie. At the start of the day, he would’ve gladly just accepted any runs that came his way. He’d made a pair on Test debut against Pakistan, and managed just a streaky boundary in the first innings here.

As he walked out to six chirping men around the bat early in his innings, he kept playing and missing, occasionally being beaten by the skidding ball. But he fought through, unafraid of being made to look ugly, and cashed in once he did all the hard work. As the spinners got tired, he spanked them for boundaries, using the crease nicely to sweep and cut, a shot that also raised his maiden Test fifty.

Balbirnie’s father watched in pride from the stands and applauded along with a handful of Irish fans who have made the trip, waving their flag on St Patrick’s Day, considered by many as a landmark day for Irish cricket – remember the 2007 World Cup? The sentiments aside, they will know there’s plenty of hard grind that lays ahead if they are to get significantly in front to challenge Afghanistan’s batting might.

Giving Balbirnie company was James McCollum, one of Ireland’s five debutants. In the first innings, he chopped Rashid Khan on, failing to read the googly. A reason was because he perhaps tried to read the bowlers, particularly the spinners, off the pitch. In the second innings, he was a lot more assured, trying to pick from the hand and using his forward stride nicely to get outside the line while sweeping, so that he could take the leg-before out of the equation.

It also helped massively that Rashid looked off colour. Struggling with an injury to his spinning finger, he didn’t have the same control over the grip and subsequently the landing, often bowling far too short or too full – neither causing much trouble. The googly sparingly made an appearance, which took away the extra dimension he brings.

The impatience and lack of consistency meant any bite off the pitch wasn’t to be had either, and as the ball got softer, run-scoring became increasingly easy. Ireland managed just 39 in the first 15 overs, but the second brought them 63, with nine fours, with the partnership worth 91.

Towards the end of the session, however, there were encouraging signs for left-arm wristspinner Waqar Salamkheil, who kept beating a suddenly tentative McCollum, who switched off with the interval within sniffing distance. That aside, Afghanistan’s only moment of cheer came when Yameen Ahmadzai was rewarded for peppering the good-length area on off-stump.

A nipbacker induced a forward push from Stirling, who until then had looked solid and in no trouble. He played down the wrong line, but got a thick inside edge onto the pad. Even as Ravi nodded, Stirling was remarkably composed and just simply accepted the decision and walked off. Neither he nor the 21 others in this Test have the option of using the DRS, because the equipment isn’t in place, quite obviously with the cost factor having a huge bearing.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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