Ireland lose to Afghanistan by 16 runs in Twenty20 opener

Afghanistan's Mohammad Shahzad and Ireland's Paul Stirling
First Twenty20 international, Bready:
Afghanistan 160-7 (18 overs): Zazai 74, Afghan 31; Little 2-10, Kane 2-50
Ireland 144-9 (18 overs): Wilson 34, Stirling 27; Rashid 3-35, Mujeeb 2-14, Aftab 2-30
Afghanistan won by 16 runs

Ireland lost by 16 runs to Afghanistan in the first of three Twenty20 matches between the sides at Bready this week.

A rain delay led to the scheduled 16:00 BST start being delayed by an hour and the game reduced to 18 overs per side.

Afghanistan were asked to bat first and made 160-7, Hazrat Zazai top-scoring with 74 off 33 balls as Tyrone Kane and Josh Little took two wickets apiece.

Ireland managed 144-9 in reply, Gary Wilson hitting 34 and Paul Stirling 27. Rashid Khan took 3-35.

Ireland put Afghanistan in after winning the toss and the tourists raced to 99-1 by the halfway point of their innings, aided by a standout innings from opener Zazai, who in his second T20I, scored his country's fastest 50 in the format.

The 20-year-old scored 23 runs off the fifth over bowled by Kane, including three sixes, the second of which saw him bring up a 22-ball half-century.

He fell in the eighth over when he attempted a sweep but could only edge Simi Singh behind, with the score 87-1.

Captain Ashgar Afghan - who recently changed his name from Asghar Stanikzai - contributed 31 and Mohammad Shahzad 29, while 18-year-old Little was the pick of the home bowlers with 2-20. Simi Singh and Peter Chase took one wicket each.

In addition to Rashid's three-wicket haul, Aftab Alam and Mujeeb Ur Rahman ended with figures of 2-30 and 2-14 respectively.

The teams meet again at the same venue on Wednesday and Friday, before playing three one-day internationals at Stormont in Belfast next week.

Ireland head coach Graham Ford is using the T20 series to give his players some extra game time in the shorter format before next year's World T20 Qualifier tournament.

Ireland have nine T20 internationals scheduled between now and the start of that competition in 2019.

When the sides last met, Afghanistan defeated fellow Full Member Status new boys Ireland by five wickets in March in a winner-takes-all Super Sixes game for a place at the 2019 World Cup in England and Wales.

Afghanistan, coached by former Ireland coach Phil Simmons, recently climbed to eighth in the ICC rankings for the T20 format, above Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.