Lucknow: All it took for Afghanistan was the inclusion of bowling all-rounder Karim Janat in their playing XI to earn their first victory of the tour against West Indies. The 21-year-old scored 26 runs with the bat before tormenting the Caribbean side with some confounding display of fast bowling to lead his team to a series-levelling 41-run victory in the second T20I in Lucknow.
The Rashid Khan-led side will now look to build on this momentum when the two sides meet for the decider at the Ekana Cricket Stadium on Sunday. Afghanistan might have won the second encounter on the back of Janat’s marvellous performance but there are quite a few grey areas that need to be addressed.
Afghanistan’s top three batsmen - Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Janat - got starts but not one of them could get going and post that big score. “The homes side” will need at least one of the top three batters to bat till the 15th over and lay a solid platform for the likes of Mohammad Nabi and Najibullah Zadran. Zazai and Janat in particular looked in fine touch last evening and just when it looked like there was special in store for both the batsmen, the two got out after scoring 26 each.
The likes of Najibullah and Nabi haven’t been able to play their natural game because not once they have got a platform from where they can just walk in and start accelerating. Afghanistan would not like to tinker with the winning combination but they can bring in someone like Javed Ahmadi in place of Ibrahim Zadran who has failed to make an impact in the first two games.
“It (batting) might be a problem for us but don’t think it’s a big one. In T20, you need a fluent start and a good finish. I don’t think it’s a big factor but somewhere down the line we will have to control this also,” said Naveen-ul-Haq after the second T20I.
On the bowling front, the team management will be slightly worried about the form of Nabi and Rashid. Both are world-class players but simply haven’t been able to pick up wickets at regular intervals on this tour. Nabi has only managed two wickets at an average of 100.5 and a strike rate of 84 in the nine T20Is that he has played in 2019. Meanwhile, Rashid still has very good numbers in this format but for some reason hasn’t been able to make any impact against West Indies on this tour.
Afghanistan however will be delighted with the way their pacers and Mujeeb Ur Rahman have performed so far in this series. Gulbadin Naib and Naveen have bowled cleverly, while Mujeeb has been very economical in the first six overs. The offspinner has the best economy rate (5.5) and has induced the highest dot ball percentage (52.6) in T20Is since 2018, which is the most among bowlers who have picked up at least 10 wickets in powerplays.
Meanwhile, West Indies won’t be too worried about the last defeat as they have played some solid cricket on this tour under the new leadership of Kieron Pollard. However, the Caribbean side has some issues in the batting department. Brandon King hasn’t been able to replicate what he achieved in the CPL 2019, while Shimron Hetmyer and Sherfane Rutherford simply haven’t been up to the mark. In eight T20Is that Hetmyer has played this year, the left-hander has only managed 71 runs at an average of just 10.14 and a strike rate of exact 100.
Evin Lewis played a blistering knock in the first T20I but couldn’t get going in the second. Lendl Simmons has been sick since he got here, while Fabian Allen couldn’t take part in the second T20I because of an injury he suffered in the first match. If the two are fit and ready to go, West Indies will look to bring them in to bolster their batting line-up significantly.
While West Indies’ batsmen have been fairly inconsistent, their bowlers have done well in both the encounters. Kesrick Williams has picked up six wickets so far and is currently the leading wicket-taker of the series. Jason Holder has also done a decent job while Pollard himself has chipped in whenever required.
Afghanistan opted to bat in the second T20I and that’s something they will look to do again on Sunday. If they can somehow manage to get close to that 150-run mark in the decider, Afghanistan can cause trouble especially with the West Indies batting unit yet to fire on all cylinders.
Afghanistan: Asghar Afghan, Hazratullah Zazai, Ibrahim Zadran, Najibullah Zadran, Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan (c), Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Naveen-ul-Haq, Fareed Malik, Javed Ahmadi, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Yamin Ahmadzai, Sayed Shirzad, Karim Janat.
West Indies: Brandon King, Evin Lewis, Shimron Hetmyer, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Kieron Pollard (c), Sherfane Rutherford, Fabian Allen, Jason Holder, Kesrick Williams, Sheldon Cottrell, Hayden Walsh, Lendl Simmons, Khary Pierre, Alzarri Joseph, Keemo Paul.