After a positive start, the visitors lost their nine wickets for just 37 runs to be reduced to 85/9 but Murtagh (54 not out) and Dockrell (39) forged a vital last wicket stand to help them eke out 172 in 60 overs. In reply, Afghanistan lost openers Ihsanullah and Mohammad Shahzad but had reduced the deficit to 82 runs. By the time stumps were called the hosts had reached 90/2 in 31 overs. Rahmat Shah was looking good on 22 not out and he had Hashmatullah Shahidi for company unbeaten on 13.
Winning the toss and batting first was the best case scenario for Ireland on a surface which was likely to turn from the outset. The elements went their way and they started off like a train with Paul Stirling and William Porterfield adding 37 runs in the first six overs. But what followed wasn't to script.
Stirling took a liking to medium pacer Ahmadzai thumping him for three fours on the trot but it was this aggression that eventually brought about his downfall. Ahmadzai got one to tail away from the opener who ideally should have let it go but chased after it and could only nick it behind to Ikram Ali Khil to depart for 26.
All of Ireland's plans went haywire once Stirling fell as they lost four wickets in the next four overs to be reduced to 55/5. Mohammad Nabi first got into the act removing Porterfield lbw for 9 before Ahmadzai got one to nip back into Andy Balbirnie, who completely missed the line of the ball to see his off stump uprooted for 4. Rashid Khan then came into the attack and he struck gold twice in his very first over. He first deceived James McCollum (4) with a classic wrong'un that breached the defences of the clueless debutant and then had Stuart Poynter lbw two balls later for 0.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors when Nabi trapped Kevin O'Brien lbw for 12 and then got rid of Stuart Thompson, who spooned a sharp chance to forward short leg for 3. Ireland went into lunch on 69/7 having lost seven wickets for just 25 runs.
There was no respite for the visitors after the break too with Andy McBrine inside-edging Waqar Salamkheil back on to his stumps while soon after James Cameron-Dow also departed trapped lbw to the left-arm spinner. That left Ireland tottering on 85/9 and in real danger of being bowled out for a sub-100 score.
But, Dockrell and No.11 Murtagh forged a stunning rearguard action to lift Ireland's spirits. Murtagh was clearly the more aggressive of the two and he went for his shots from the get-go often using his feet well against the spinners. He started off with a glorious lofted straight drive over Nabi's head and then slammed the off-spinner in the same direction this time for a half a dozen runs. Dockrell too gained confidence and though he was a bit circumspect with his stroke play, collected boundaries whenever available.
The Afghanistan spinners started feeling the heat and there were a few wayward deliveries bowled by them which were dealt with rather easily by both batsmen. Murtagh soon brought up the half-century stand between the duo with a hoick over mid-on which was followed by a solid pull over deep midwicket. It did not take long for Murtagh to reach his maiden Test match half-century getting there in 72 deliveries which included four fours and two sixes.
The dogged stand finally ended when Ahmadzai, who had stuck to his basics all through, got Dockrell caught behind for 39. Murtagh remained unbeaten on 54 and was a major reason behind Ireland managing to reach where they did. For Afghanistan Nabi and Ahmadzai were the most successful bowlers returning three wickets each.
The hosts were quite reserved in their reply and were prepared to graft it out in the initial overs. Even the ever-exuberant Shahzad did not try anything silly as Afghanistan only managed 13 runs in the first 11 overs. The shackles were finally broken by Shahzad who spanked Andy McBrine for a four and six in the 12th over.
Ireland were rewarded for their patience James Cameron-Dow, the debutant, got a wicket in his very first over trapping Ihsanullah lbw for 7. Rahmat Shah, walking in at No.3, immediately lifted the scoring rate as he got about to business with a glorious four. His confidence rubbed on to Shahzad as well who collected back-to-back fours off Cameron-Dow. However, his resistance soon ended on 40 when he plonked a return catch back to the same bowler.
The Irish bowlers kept at it for the rest of the day but Shahidi and Shah ensured they remained unscathed when stumps were drawn.
First Published: March 15, 2019, 5:15 PM IST