Fionn Hand made a spectacular international debut in Belfast on Friday, smashing 36 from 18 balls before Ireland fell 22 runs short of a third victory in four days against Afghanistan in their five-match T20 series.
When the popular Clontarf all-rounder joined George Dockrell, the Boys in Green were all but beaten on 85-7 but the eighth-wicket pair revived hopes with a partnership of 74 runs from 6.2 overs.
Hand fell unluckily when his ramp shot failed to clear the fine leg fielder as he searched for a third six, and Dockrell ran out of road with 28 required from the final over, and had to settle for a muscular 58 not out, from 37 balls.
While Dockrell continues to prove his worth at No 5, it was Hand’s display that has given the selectors a headache ahead of the T20 World Cup in October because he did little wrong with the ball either, taking 1-29 from three overs.
“He seems to make things happen in the middle, be it with bat or ball,” skipper Andy Balbirnie admitted.
The game was lost either side of halfway with the last 19 balls of the Afghanistan innings disappearing for 48 runs to take the visitors to 189-5, while the first 20 balls of the reply saw the demise of Ireland’s three best batters.
Paul Stirling went second ball, mis-timing a full toss into the covers, Andy Balbirnie fell for one, to a fine catch at backward point, and Harry Tector edged to the keeper on three.
“Our batting let us down, we didn’t do well in the powerplay,” Balbirnie said. “It was pleasing to see the fight at the back end but we couldn’t get over the line and we really want to win this series.”
Along with capping Hand, Ireland also gave a first taste of T20 internationals to South African-born all-rounder Graham Hume who bowled a tight first over, conceding just a single, but then took some tap in his next three, and was run out without scoring.
The fourth match of the series is at Stormont on Monday.