A solid bowling performance helped India survive a massive scare as they defeated Afghanistan by 11 runs at Hampshire Bowl, Southampton on Saturday.
When Virat Kohli won the toss and elected to bat, it looked like it would be a long day in the field for Afghanistan. The pitch, according to most, looked like a batting paradise with Afghan skipper Gulbadin Naib also saying that he would have liked to bat on what he termed as a “good pitch”.
In the absence of Shikhar Dhawan, it was KL Rahul (30 off 53 balls) who once again accompanied Rohit Sharma at the start of the innings. India have tended to start their innings on a steady note before going big at the back-end. It seemed no different this time as the openers scored just seven off the first four overs.
Then came a big moment as the in-form Rohit was foxed by a carrom ball from Mujeeb Ur Rahman (1/26) and was bowled for just 1. Yet, at that time, it looked like it would be a minor hiccup for the Men in Blue as Kohli (67 from 63 balls) came out and looked to be in fine touch.
Two back-to-back boundaries against Aftab Alam (1/54) in the eighth over showed the Indian captain’s intent as he looked good for a big score. At the other end, Rahul was playing a watchful innings. But as has been the case with the Karnataka batsman in the past, he threw away his wicket while attempting a needless reverse sweep against Mohammad Nabi (2/33). It’s the third time that Rahul has wasted a start and his inability to kick on will be frustrating for the Indian team management.
Kohli, meanwhile, notched up his 93rd 50+ score in ODIs and was batting like a dream. At the other end though, batsmen were struggling to get going. Vijay Shankar (29 off 41 balls) looked solid, but perished before making a meaningful impact. Then came a major setback for India as Kohli could only cut a short delivery to short third man. It was Nabi with the breakthrough once again.
MS Dhoni (28 off 52 balls) and Kedar Jadhav had the responsibility of rebuilding the innings. While the duo looked far from their best, they fought their way to a 57-run partnership. The partnership lasted for 84 deliveries before Dhoni was stumped for just the second time in his ODI career.
Hardik Pandya (7 off 9 balls) wasn’t at the races either as India crawled to 224/8, managing just 54 runs off the last 10 overs. While Jadhav was not at his fluent best, his innings of 52 from 68 deliveries was crucial for India in the end.
Against a strong bowling line-up, chasing 225 was never going to an easy task and Hazratullah Zazai didn’t look at ease before he was bowled by Mohammad Shami (4/40) for a 24-ball 10. Naib (27 off 42 balls) and Rahmat Shah (36 off 63 balls) steadied the ship, but just as they seemed to be taking the match away from India, the Afghan captain could only top edge a Pandya (2/51) bouncer to deep fine-leg.
India persisted with a short-ball strategy and it proved to be a useful ploy as Afghanistan were able to score at a strike rate of just 60 and lost two wickets when they were facing short-pitched deliveries.
There were some jitters in the Indian campaign when Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi (21 off 45 balls) put on a 42-run partnership, but Jasprit Bumrah (2/39) was on hand to provide the crucial breakthroughs. The right-arm pacer dismissed both set batsmen within three deliveries in the 29th over and it was advantage India once again.
At this point, it looked like a tall task for the Afghans, but Nabi (52 off 55 balls) showed great character to get his team right back into the game. While wickets were falling at the other end, the 34-year-old was rotating the strike well and hit the odd boundary to keep Afghanistan in the contest.
Yuzvendra Chahal (2/36) continued his fine form in the tournament, taking the crucial wickets of Asghar Afghan (8 off 19 balls) and Rashid Khan (14 off 16 balls) during this period of the match.
The match was in the balance with Afghanistan needing 24 off the last three overs. Shami bowled a brilliant 48th over, conceding just three and Bumrah followed it with six top deliveries which brought the situation down to 16 runs needed from the final six balls.
Nabi hit the first ball of the final over for a boundary and the tension was palpable on the faces of the Indian fans in the crowd. A dot ball followed and the match was decided off the third delivery when Nabi could only loft a full delivery to Pandya at long-on. Shami finished the formalities with two wickets off the next two balls to become the second Indian to take a World Cup hat-trick.