Lucknow: The format changed but Afghanistan’s fortunes didn’t as West Indies, on the back of Evin Lewis’ blistering 41-ball 68 and Kieron Pollard’s all-round showing, outclassed the Rashid Khan-led side by 30 runs in the first T20I in Lucknow on Thursday (November 14) to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Asked to bat, Lewis smoked six maximums and four fours on his way to his fifth T20I fifty and got West Indies off to a solid start before Afghanistan made a comeback on the back of Gulbadin Naib. While Lewis scored his runs at a strike rate of 165.8, the other Caribbean batsmen managed 91 runs collectively at 115.1. Things could have gone worse if not for Kieron Pollard’s unbeaten 22-ball 32 as West Indies finished with a total of 164 for 5 in 20 overs - their highest against Afghanistan in this format.
In response, West Indies bowlers put in a collective effort and restricted Afghanistan to 134 for 9 in their 20 overs.
Earlier, the match was delayed by 15 minutes because of insect repellent as the smoke didn’t clear on time due to lack of wind. However once the match started, debutant Brandon King - who lit up the last edition of CPL - tried to go after Mujeeb Ur Rahman from the word go. King, who slammed spinners at an average of 77.33 in CPL 2019, slapped Mujeeb for a boundary towards the cover region to get the ball rolling but the off-spinner had his revenge on the very next delivery as he knocked over the right-hander who was looking to cut a straight delivery.
Unlike King, Lewis took some time to settle in before opening his shoulders in the fourth over. The left-hander managed a couple of fours towards the on-side off Mohammad Nabi’s bowling and then ripped apart Mujeeb in the fifth over. The off-spinner was guilty of bowling either too short or too full and Lewis made the most of it. After Mujeeb got hit for two maximums and a four, Afghanistan were forced to introduce a pacer - Fareed Malik - but that only made life slightly easier for Lewis who welcomed him with a couple of sixes to help West Indies cross the 50-run mark by the end of six overs.
Lewis used the depth of the crease to perfection and that helped him to pounce on anything that was even slightly on the shorter side. Rashid brought himself into the attack to put an end to Lewis’ onslaught but the left-hander greeted him with a boundary and completed his half-century. Meanwhile Shimron Hetmyer, who was happily playing the second fiddle, finally made his presence felt in the same over when he smoked Rashid over deep mid-wicket for his first boundary.
However, it was eventually Rashid who broke the 87-run stand when he got rid of Hetmyer for a run-a-ball 21. With Lewis going berserk at the other end, Hetmyer too tried to cut loose but ended up inside edging to a wicketkeeper while attempting a wild slog. Afghanistan still desperately needed the wicket of Lewis and it was Naib who did the job for his team. The right-arm fast bowler kept hitting the length and gave Lewis no pace to work with whatsoever.
The opener got frustrated after failing to connect two deliveries and ended up mistiming one straight into the hands of the mid-off fielder. The 28-year-old slowed the pace of the innings with three consecutive quite overs and in the process also knocked over wicketkeeper-batsman Denesh Ramdin (19-ball 20) with a yet another slower delivery. Naib finished with the figures of 2 for 24 and played a massive role in the final 11 overs in which West Indies only managed 76 runs after being 88 for 1 in nine overs.
West Indies captain Pollard too couldn’t get his timing right and struggled to get the bowl away for the major part of his innings. He had quite a tussle going with Naveen-ul-Haq and the two kept exchanging words after the fast bowler tried to warn him not to get out of the crease before he bowled his delivery. Naveen kept bowling slow and short in the final over and it was only on the fifth ball when Pollard finally managed to smash one over deep mid-wicket for a maximum, before blasting one through the covers for four to end on a high note.
Following a good show in the back end of the West Indies innings, Afghanistan needed a steady start but wicketkeeper-batsman Rahmanullah Gurbaz (0) and No. 3 Ibrahim Zadran (2) departed inside three overs to leave Afghanistan reeling at 7 for 2. While Gurbaz was caught at short fine leg in the bowling of Jason Holder, Ibrahim mistimed a pull to offer a simple catch to the mid-wicket fielder.
Afghanistan were in desperate need of a partnership and it was once again Hazratullah Zazai and Asghar Afghan, who performed for them in the final ODI, came to their rescue. Zazai however struggled to get going during his stay in the middle but Asghar announced his arrival by smacking Holder for a six over deep mid-wicket.
While Asghar was operating at a decent rate, Zazai looked completely off-color and was finally dismissed by Kesrick Williams (3 for 17) for 29-ball 23 in the ninth over. Coming in at No. 5, Najibullah Zadran struck Hayden Walsh (2 for 34) for back-to-back boundaries and just when it looked like the two would up the ante, substitute fielder Keemo Paul pulled off a blinder at deep mid-wicket in the bowling of Pollard (2 for 17) to send Asghar back in the hut for 21-ball 25.
Taking a leaf out of Afghanistan’s book, Pollard kept mixing his pace, constantly bowling back of a length. He then also dismissed Najibullah Zadran (22-ball 27) before leg-spinner Walsh returned for his second spell and had Nabi (7) caught at long on. Williams and Walsh then claimed couple of more wickets but Malik (15-ball 24*) played few good shots and somehow managed to bat out the 20 overs.
Afghanistan were whitewashed in the ODIs and have now lost the first T20I by a fair margin. The two teams will now meet again on Saturday and “the home team” will have to come up with much better performance if they want to keep themselves alive in the series.