Afghanistan 278 for 3 (Hazratullah 162*, Ghani 73) beat Ireland 194 for 6 (Stirling 91, O’Brien 37, Rashid 4-25) by 84 runs
The biggest team total in all T20 cricket. The second-highest individual score in T20Is. The most sixes by a batsman in a T20I innings. The biggest partnership for any wicket in all T20s. The curator at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium rolled out the kind of batting paradise that produces matches like Johannesburg 2006 and Lauderhill 2016, and for a while a similar, improbably tight finish seemed within the realms of possibility, but Afghanistan had two things Ireland did not, and those two things told in their margin of victory: 84 runs.
They had Hazratullah Zazai, a truly elite six-hitter who came into this match with a 44-ball T20 hundred and the joint-fastest T20 fifty – which included six sixes in an over – already on his resume. Today he sent 16 hits sailing over the ropes, all but two of them in the arc between long-on and deep backward square leg, most of them achieved via the simple method of clearing his front leg and hoicking away. On occasion he hit sixes with his feet slipping under him, ridiculing the idea of a stable base much like the similarly left-handed Rishabh Pant does from time to time.
Three overs in the Afghanistan innings went for 20 or more, the biggest of them a 28-run 17th over that included four Zazai sixes off Kevin O’Brien.
The downpour of sixes from Zazai’s bat meant his opening partner Usman Ghani, who scored 73 at a strike rate of 152.08, went almost unnoticed in a world-record partnership of 236.
Ireland began their chase of 279 as well as they could have expected, with Paul Stirling and O’Brien clattering 69 in the Powerplay. But they were already behind the required rate and couldn’t find the extra gear to catch up. That extra gear was six-hitting of the Gayle, Russell or Zazai level.
Stirling began the innings with a six over long-off off Mujeeb Ur Rahman, but only hit one more in his 91 off 50 balls. He often had to improvise breathtaking shots to find the boundary, like a wristy sliced drive over backward point off Fareed Ahmad to find the gap to the left of deep cover point, but his attacking arsenal didn’t include the elite T20 hitter’s array of lofted hits.
And Afghanistan had two world-class T20 spinners who remained difficult to hit even in conditions that offered nothing to any kind of bowler. Mujeeb conceded just a four and a six in his three Powerplay overs, and even though he struggled with wides it was the result of a clear plan, to follow the premeditated movements of Stirling and O’Brien and deny them room.
Then Rashid Khan, held back until the 11th over, produced a chance with his first ball, a legbreak that O’Brien misread as the googly. He miscued wildly, only for Asghar Afghan to drop a straightforward chance at extra cover. Not that it made much of a difference. By then Ireland’s required rate was already 17, and despite their best efforts they only managed a four and a six off Rashid’s 24 balls. He also picked up four wickets, the pick of them a googly that zipped through Andy Balbirnie before he could bring his bat down to cut.
On the day, Mujeeb and Rashid found an impressive ally in Karim Janat, who slowed Stirling down with his slower balls and wide yorkers just when the opening partnership was looking at its most fluent. Together, these three bowlers only conceded 85 in 12 overs, leaving Ireland the impossible task of scoring 194 off the other eight.