Afghanistan came into the game leading the series 1-0 having won the first ODI before the second was washed out and looked set to extend their lead till Balbirnie stepped up to the plate to save the day for Ireland.
Having won the toss and elected to bat first, Afghanistan started poorly with Mohammad Shahzad (5) and Rahmat Shah (1) both dismissed within the first eight overs by Tim Murtagh and Andy McBrine.
Hazratullah Zazai (34) along with skipper Asghar Afghan (75) stitched together a 30-run partnership as they looked to steady the ship, before the dangerous Zazai was run-out by Murtagh.
Hashmatullah Shahidi (11) and Samiullah Shinwari (4) followed soon as Ireland left Afghanistan in a spot of bother as they were reduced from 53/3 to 74/5 in the span of five overs.
Afghan, who smashed four boundaries and three sixes in his knock, was joined by Najibullah Zadran (104*) and they resurrected the innings with a 117-run partnership.
Zadran, who scored his maiden international century, hit five boundaries and five sixes during his 98-ball knock played a crucial role in Afghanistan eventually posting a respectable total.
Afghan was dismissed with less than seven overs to go and it was eventually left to Zadran to up the ante. He continued to attack the Irish bowlers as they scored 53 runs in the last five overs to cross the 250-run mark.
In response, Ireland’s chase begin in similar fashion as Afghanistan’s innings. Mujeeb Ur Rahman had William Porterfield (3) lbw before Paul Stirling (20) was castled by Dawlat Zadran. Zadran struck again three balls later as Simi Singh (1) was trapped lbw.
Balbirnie and Kevin O’Brien (21) then repaired the damage to some extent with a 44-run partnership for the fourth wicket, before Shenwari sent O’Brien packing. Afghanistan were looking to keep up the pressure on the Irish, but Balbirnie and George Dockrell (54) renewed the recovery charge with a 143-run partnership that put them in the driver’s seat in the chase.
Dockrell smashed a boundary and a six during his half-century but as he looked to up the scoring rate Mohammad Nabi had him stumped by Shahzad.
Rashid Khan then added more pressure when he had Stuart Poynter lbw for a duck. Ireland, who were in a position of strength in the chase, were now under pressure and in danger of losing the tie having lost six wickets for 217.
At the other end however, Balbirnie, who had seen his partners disappear at regular intervals, had completed his century and continued to be the thorn in the skin for the Afghanistan bowlers as he never let the game go out of reach.
Balbirnie (145*), eventually remained unbeaten with eight sixes and as many boundaries during his match-wining innings, wrapped up with win a boundary of the last ball off the 49th over.
Brief scores: Afghanistan: 256/8 (Asghar Afghan 75, Najibullah Zadran 104*; Boyd Rankin 2-56) lost to Ireland: 260/6 (Andrew Balbirnie 145*, George Dockrell 54; Dawlat Zadran 2-52)
First Published: March 5, 2019, 9:14 PM IST