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Hot prospect Balbirnie's 31 secures vital win for Ireland


Andrew Balbirnie

Andrew Balbirnie

Getty Images

Andrew Balbirnie

TRENT JOHNSTON has described him as "a young man on the move in Irish cricket" and Andrew Balbirnie showed why with a steely 31 not out to deliver a nervy three-wicket one-day international victory over Afghanistan in the Dubai tri-series on Saturday.

George Dockrell's four wickets had helped restrict Afghanistan to 180 all out, but Ireland made hard work of a modest chase and were in serious trouble at 129-7 before old hand Alex Cusack joined Balbirnie in an unbroken match-winning partnership of 52.

The 24-year-old Middlesex batsman will be back in action against Scotland at the Dubai International Stadium today looking to maintain a run of form that has propelled him from World Cup hopeful to first-team regular.

Balbirnie had scored only 130 runs in eight innings in 2014 before a match-winning 86 against the ACT in Canberra on October 9. That breakthrough was followed by two more half centuries and his first century - 129 against New Zealand A in Dubai - in his next five innings.

Balbirnie has opened for the U19 and senior side and his natural position appears to be No4, but against Afghanistan he found himself down at No7.

Another bonus for coach Phil Simmons, as his side maintained an unbeaten run against Afghanistan that dates back to 2010, was the fitness of Cusack who missed almost the entire 2014 domestic season through injury.

The Clontarf all-rounder seems held together with on Saturday and elastic bands at times, but he is the go-to man in a crisis and he delivered again on Saturday with a steadying 26 not out, including three successive fours to put the outcome beyond all doubt.

Paul Stirling shone with the ball, bowling nine overs of off spin for 13 runs, but his failure with the bat sparked an early innings collapse and if Simmons has a worry one month from the start of the World Cup, it must be that his top order is not consistent enough.

That accusation cannot be levelled at Ed Joyce who was Ireland's top scorer with 51, nor Kevin O'Brien, who hit the only six of the Ireland innings in a solid 30.

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