Cricket: 'Loose' Ireland under cosh despite Mooney's late resistance
TRENT JOHNSTON'S final appearance for Ireland is threatening to prove an anti-climax after Afghanistan took firm control of the Inter-Continental Cup final on the first day in Dubai.
Johnston was supposed to retire at the end of the week in a glorious fanfare with a fourth winners' medal around his neck, but he was bowled third ball for a duck as below-par batting saw Ireland struggle to 187 all out.
A fightback of sorts in the final session was led by John Mooney, but the three-times champions needed three breathtaking catches to restrict Afghanistan to 81-3.
"It was a very bad performance with the bat," Mooney admitted. "We played a lot of loose shots and our backs are now really against the wall because that definitely isn't a 187 pitch.
"There is only a little bit there for the bowlers and although I took the three wickets it was really Trent and Max (Sorensen) who put them under pressure with really good opening spells."
John Anderson grafted to a top-score of 55 and Mooney resisted breezily for 33 down the order, but a series of ill-advised shots had already inflicted serious damage after Afghanistan won the toss.
Paul Stirling and Ed Joyce -- like Mooney -- were caught in the cordon playing expansively at wide deliveries, Niall O'Brien could have left a ball that he unluckily dragged on and Andrew White was lbw sweeping.
"You can argue that it's an odd time of year to be playing a big game like this and that Ed and Andy hadn't been in the middle for a couple of months, but then neither had John Anderson," Mooney (below) added.
"We were rusty, but, hopefully, we can put it right in our second innings."
A worry for Ireland is that Afghanistan's two leg-spinners were able to find enough turn and bounce on the first day of a five-day contest to claim five wickets between them.
There seemed few demons in the pitch when Afghanistan replied, though, despite a pacy and probing opening seven overs from Johnston, and it needed a diving catch leg-side catch by wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien off Mooney to break through.
O'Brien is back behind the stumps because Gary Wilson fell victim to a virus on the eve of the game; Ireland were also without Tim Murtagh, who has flown home for family reasons.
If O'Brien's take may have reminded coach Phil Simmons that he is still Ireland's best gloveman, White's one-handed grab at third slip was stunning and Mooney himself held another cracker at head height as he followed through.
IRELAND V AFGHANISTAN, LIVE STREAMING, WWW.CRICKETIRELAND.IE, 7.00 AM