Lucknow: While it was Karim Janat who single-handedly won Afghanistan the second T20I to keep themselves alive in the series, the third and final encounter was all about teenager Rahmanullah Gurbaz. The wicketkeeper-batsman scored a fantastic 52-ball 79 and helped his team defeat West Indies by 29 runs in the decider on Sunday (November 17).
Afghanistan skipper Rashid Khan won the toss and opted to bat first, exactly what they did on Saturday. There was hardly any contribution from other batsmen but Gurbaz took the onus on him and displayed some aggressive and confident strokeplay, smoking six fours and five maximums during his stay in the middle. It was largely because of him Afghanistan got to 156 for 8 in their 20 overs - their highest total against West Indies in this format.
In reply, Shai Hope (46-ball 52) scored a steady half-century but West Indies failed to put up a fight and could only manage 127 for 7 in their 20 overs. Fast bowler Naveen-ul-Haq was pick of the bowlers for Afghanistan as he finished with bowling figures of 3 for 24.
Earlier, people present at the Ekana Cricket Stadium got to witness the Sheldon Cottrell salute in the very first over as the left-arm paceman dismissed Hazratullah Zazai for a duck. The left-handed opener didn’t read the change of pace and was way early into the cut shot, hitting it straight into the hands of Evin Lewis at the cover region. Janat (2) then tried to heave Cottrell out of the park but ended up edging it to the wicketkeeper as “the home side” were reduced to 12 for 2 in no time.
The departure of two batsmen didn’t stop Gurbaz from playing his shots. He scored 81.25 percent of the runs Afghanistan managed in the powerplay. Gurbaz, who’s known for playing 360-degree shots, first whipped Jason Holder for a six over deep square leg before welcoming Kesrick Williams with a six over cow corner. He also failed to connect on quite a few occasions but once he smashed couple of boundaries, Gurbaz started to look much comfortable in the middle.
Ibrahim Zadran stuck around for 10 deliveries but all he could manage was one run before he was run out by Holder in the eighth over. Despite wickets falling at the other end, Gurbaz kept fighting the lone battle and kept the scoreboard moving. The 17-year-old realised the importance of his wicket and started operating a bit more smartly. Wild slogs soon turned into straight drives, upper cuts, and flick shots as Gurbaz completed his second T20I fifty in the 12th over.
Gurbaz still needed some support from the other end and he found an able ally in Asghar Afghan (20-ball 24). The 31-year-old added 50 runs with Gurbaz for the fourth wicket and took some pressure off him by finding couple of boundaries. Asghar however failed to build on his start and mistimed a pull shot that landed straight into the hands of the square leg fielder Brandon King who had already dropped him at deep mid-wicket in the same over.
The onus once again fell on the young shoulders of Gurbaz to propel Afghanistan to a fighting total and the right-hander responded outstandingly. Gurbaz didn’t allow Keemo Paul to settle in and also went after Kieron Pollard who has contributed with the ball throughout the series. However, it was Pollard who sent the dangerous batsman back to the hut when he had him caught at sweeper cover in the 17th over.
Najibullah Zadran (14) and Mohammad Nabi (7-ball 15) then managed to clear the fence on couple of occasions and helped Afghanistan collect 29 runs off the last three overs. For West Indies, Cottrell, Williams and Paul picked up two wickets each while Pollard got the big fish.
The job was only half done and Afghanistan needed early wickets to put some pressure on West Indies. It was once again Mujeeb Ur Rahman who did the job for his team as the offspinner knocked over Lendl Simmons, who was playing his first game of the series, for just 7 runs. The opener misread the googly and backed away way too early in order to cut that ball, only to end up missing it altogether and getting bowled. Coming in at No. 3, King (1) was once again undone by an off-cutter from Naveen. King tried to force the drive and offered Naveen a big gap between bat and pad to hit the stumps. This is exactly how he got out in the second T20I.
Afghanistan bowlers bowled with good control in the powerplay and kept Lewis in check. The left-handed opener was trying to find an opening but just couldn’t get going. Janat, who claimed a five-wicket haul on Saturday, sent Lewis back for 23-ball 24 as West Indies were reduced to 50 for 3 at the end of nine overs.
With 107 needed off 66 deliveries, Hope tried to break the shackles by accumulating 13 runs off Nabi’s first over but that’s when Rashid brought himself into the attack and had Shimron Hetmyer (11) caught at backward point.
Coming in as a replacement for Denesh Ramdin, Hope showed great composure and ensured there was no middle-order collapse like yesterday. Despite all his efforts, the required rate kept getting higher and higher and West Indies needed 53 runs in the last four overs. Rashid then bowled a solid 17th over, giving away just seven runs and brought the equation down to 46 off 18 deliveries. The legspinner finished with figures of 1 for 18.
Pollard was able to spend some time in the middle but the 32-year-old made no difference whatsoever. The right-hander scored only 11 runs before Naveen had him caught at deep mid-wicket. Hope too departed after completing his fifty before Naveen took one more wicket in the last over to put the final nail in the coffin.