Lucknow: There have been few moments in all the four encounters (three ODIs and first T20I) where Afghanistan have challenged West Indies with both bat and ball but not once has the Rashid Khan-led side managed to get into a position from where they can think of winning a match.
After being brushed aside in ODIs, where they are on a 12-match losing streak, Afghanistan would have fancied their chances of getting the better of West Indies in the shortest format of the game, but once again all they got was disappointment. There was some fightback by Afghanistan bowlers in the first T20I after Evin Lewis brought the roof down with a blitzkrieg knock which comprised six maximums and four fours. However, their batsmen failed to put up a fight and Afghanistan lost the game by 30 runs.
They have now also lost three T20Is in a row, and this is coming after being on a record streak of 12 victories. Thursday’s defeat was also their first in the last 11 T20I encounters they have played in India.
There have been some individual performances but Afghanistan have failed to click as a unit, something they were known for. Rashid himself has failed to lead his team from the front and his performance against West Indies have been way below par. The leg-spinner took only two wickets at an average of 67 in the ODI series and then was taken for 34 runs in the first T20I. Despite failing to make any impact on Thursday, Rashid still has a great record in T20Is this year. The 21-year-old has scalped 18 wickets in eight games at an average of 11.94.
The 21-year-old looked desperate to make an impact in the first T20I and was guilty of bowling either too full or too short. West Indies have some solid hitters in their middle order and Rashid will have to step up and lead his side with example. There are many teams who just try to play him out and that’s something exactly Rashid needs to do right now. Even if he doesn’t pick up too many wickets, Rashid will have to make sure West Indies get nothing from his end.
While all the focus has been on Rashid, Mujeeb Ur Rahman has done his job in almost every single game. He was clearly their best bowler in the ODI series and even had a decent outing in the first T20I - 1 for 27. Apart from one match, Mujeeb has picked up at least one wicket in every T20I this year. The off-spinner has picked up 14 wickets in overs 1 to 6 since 2019, which is the highest after Billy Stanlake’s 15.
Meanwhile, all-rounder Mohammad Nabi hasn’t had a great year in T20Is. The off-spinner has only managed two wickets in the eight games that he has played so far at an average of 91.50. The 34-year-old has operated with an economy of 7.32 but Afghanistan will need their most experienced player to pick up more wickets and make life more easier for Rashid and Mujeeb. However, the one man who impressed the most in the first T20I was Gulbadin Naib. The right-arm fast bowler mixed his length and pace to perfection and ended up with figures of 2 for 24. West Indies bowlers then took the leaf out of his book and applied the same ploy that helped them to restrict Afghanistan batsmen in the second innings.
To be fair, Afghanistan bowlers have done a decent job so far and it’s their batsmen who have let them down. Despite scoring a fifty in the final ODI, Hazratullah Zazai looked completely out of touch on Thursday. The likes of Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran departed inside three overs and that didn’t allow Zazai to play his natural game. Meanwhile senior pros - Asghar Afghan, Najibullah Zadran and Nabi - have looked good in patches but the trio will have to take more responsibility especially with their top-order constantly failing.
Meanwhile, the West Indies team management will be delighted with how things have gone so far on this tour. They have been the better side in all three facets of the game and Kieron Pollard has done a commendable job as captain. The 32-year-old has been very aggressive on the field and has always been on the opponent’s face, constantly chirping, and motivating his players. As a result, the Men in Maroon have played aggressive brand of cricket so far and have taken most of the opportunities that have come on their way.
Lewis was the real star in the batting department but the likes of Pollard, Shimron Hetmyer and Denesh Ramdin too played their part. The latter two however didn’t look at their best and will try to excel in the next match having spent enough time in the middle. The team management will also give Brandon King at least one more opportunity after the right-handed opener could only manage 4 runs on his T20I debut. If things don’t work out they always have someone like Lendl Simmons to fall back to.
On the bowling front, every bowler apart from Sherfane Rutherford had a good outing, even Pollard with his medium-pace and slower ones managed to dismiss Asghar and Najibullah. The visiting team lost Fabian Allen due to injury on the field and if the all-rounder fails to recover on time, West Indies have a solid back-up in Khary Pierre. They also have the option of playing someone like Keemo Paul in place of Rutherford.
The key to bowl well at the Ekana Cricket Stadium is to mix-up your pace, something that Naib, Pollard and Kesrick Williams did with perfection. The surface is only going to slow down and medium-pacers can be expected to create even more impact in the remaining two T20Is.
With the T20 World Cup fast approaching, two-time champions West Indies will look to find the right mix of players for next year’s event in Australia. Meanwhile, Afghanistan need that one special performance from somewhere to ignite that much-needed spark within the team and somehow find a way to keep this series alive.
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.