Ireland will not participate at next year’s World Cup after suffering an agonising defeat to Afghanistan in their all-or-nothing encounter in Harare.
The two latest full member nations of the International Cricket Council were both vying for a place in England and Wales next summer as the qualification tournament reached its crescendo.
And it was Afghanistan who prevailed as they overhauled Ireland’s 209 for seven with five wickets and as many balls to spare to join the West Indies in the 10-team global tournament.
It is a spectacular reversal of fortunes for Afghanistan, a side coached by former Ireland boss Phil Simmons who lost their first three group games and only progressed to the Super Six stage through net run-rate before hitting their straps.
While they will be contemplating a World Cup qualifier final against the Windies on Sunday, Ireland miss out on the tournament proper for the first time since 2003.
Both sides were given the opportunity to claim a top-two spot by virtue of Zimbabwe’s shock defeat to the UAE on Thursday, and Ireland’s superior NRR over Afghanistan meant they would progress in the event of a washout.
Ireland captain Will Porterfield won the toss and elected to bat first, and he and Paul Stirling made a watchful start on a wearing pitch, finding the boundary rope just five times in a 53-run opening stand.
Porterfield departed for 20 from 45 balls after flicking off-spinner Mohammad Nabi to midwicket while Andrew Balbirnie contributed 11 from 34 deliveries before nicking behind off Afghanistan’s star legbreak bowler Rashid Khan.
Stirling brought up his 13th one-day international fifty as he and Niall O’Brien upped the tempo, but the former was run out for 55.
O’Brien was unable to carry on the momentum after driving to short extra cover off Dawlat Zadran for 36 as Ireland stuttered to 130 for four in the 36th over.
Kevin O’Brien contributed 41 from 37 balls with three fours and a six to lift Ireland towards a competitive total before being bowled by Rashid, who finished as the pick of Afghanistan’s bowlers with three for 40.
The daring Mohammad Shahzad led Afghanistan’s reply, taking charge of an 86-run opening partnership alongside Gulbadin Naib (45) with a rash of boundaries.
He made 54 from 50 deliveries to seemingly leave Afghanistan in pole position although his dismissal - after holing out to long-on off Simi Singh - tilted the balance back in Ireland’s favour.
Spinners Simi and Andy McBrine were able to stifle the run-rate, while the former collected the wickets of Rahmat Shah and the dangerous Nabi as Afghanistan lurched from 113 for one just after the midway point to 151 for four with 10 overs remaining.
At the end of the 44th over, Afghanistan were left needing more than a run a ball but captain Asghar Stanikzai (39 not out) eased the pressure on his side, clubbing four then six over long-on off successive Barry McCarthy deliveries.
Najibullah Zadran (17no) also cleared the ropes to put Afghanistan within touching distance before Stanikzai completed the job in the final over after a thick inside edge off McCarthy ran away to the boundary for four.
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