“I’m looking forward to turning things around as they defeated us in the World Cup qualifiers “said a confident Jason Holder before the dead rubber against Afghanistan. Despite the Windies out of contention, Holder’s eagerness to prove a point was evident when he won the toss and elected to bat in ideal conditions.
One of the things that has haunted the Windies batting was the inability of the opening partnership to flourish so far, with 36 against Pakistan being their best. Chris Gayle, in his World Cup swansong, is having a terrible outing with just 242 runs in nine innings. Thursday was nothing different; after consuming 18 balls he was tempted to go for a full length delivery off Dawlat Zadran managing only to nick it to Ikram Ali Khil behind the stumps.
Nothing is going right for Rashid Khan in this World Cup. He is generally a safe out-fielder, probably the best in the Afghanistan side, but in the eighth over he spilled a sitter when Shai Hope flicked a ball straight to him.
The drop proved costly. Hope began playing the anchor’s role, which allowed Evin Lewis to play freely. Both added 88 for the second wicket before Lewis threw his wicket in quest for quick runs. Windies were going at 4.36 runs per over but these two had set the launching pad for the likes of Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran to provide a strong finish.
Hetmyer played aggressively, the way he usually does, tonking the spinners all round Headingley. He scored 39 at a strike of 125 which included three boundaries and two towering six. When it mattered, substitute fielder Aftab Alam held on to smart catch at midwicket to send Hetmyer packing.
The incoming batsman, Pooran went from the onset. He was the man in form and when he pulled his first ball with disdain to the boundary it was the clear testament of it. Hope once again failed to convert his start to a big score after he was dismissed for 77 by Mohammad Nabi.
After the wicket of Hope, Captain Jason Holder joined Pooran at the crease. They consolidated for a while and switched gears going into the last 10 overs.
Although Holder and Pooran were dismissed in successive balls, the damage was done. Holder scored 45 at a strike rate of 132 and Pooran reached yet another half century, scoring at 134.88. Carlos Brathwaite’s late flourish meant the West Indies finished at 311/6.
West Indies scored 111 from the final ten overs all thanks to the power hitting ability of the men from the Caribbean. The exploits of six of their batsmen ensured they hit 14 sixes on the day. Since 2015 World Cup, West Indies batsmen hit a six every 34 balls, the best among all teams at this quadrennial event.
311 would be a herculean chase for the Pashtuns but they were clear with their plan, to give it all. They came with a positive intent. They didn’t get an ideal start though with Gulbadin Naib being dismissed in the 2nd over.
During the mid-innings break there was a clear message from the dressing room to play positive cricket without thinking of the result. The incoming batsmen was Ali Khil who played the slowest innings of this tournament against Pakistan (24 off 66). But the message seemed to be like words of wisdom. Ali Khil wasted no time and started tormenting the Windies bowlers from the onset. He was accompanied by Rahmat Shah, one of the most experienced batsmen and that helped his cause.
They cashed in and exposed Windies’ inability to break partnerships in the middle overs. During overs (11-40) the Windies bowlers have taken a wicket every 56 balls, which is only above Sri Lanka. West Indies couldn’t defend 321 against Bangladesh and the partnership between Ali Khil and Shah was an insinuation of it.
The Windies fielding was below par with catches dropped, misfielding and the pressure of another defeat was clearly visible on their faces. In the 25th over, Cottrell dropped Rahmat Shah which further added to their woes.
Meanwhile Ali Khil reached his maiden half century. They added 133 runs for the 2nd wicket. The partnership was broken by Brathwaite after he foxed Shah with a slower ball who ended up chipping it to Gayle at extra cover for 62. Windies were so hapless that they used Gayle for 6 overs and he proved to be the man with the golden arm after he removed Ali Khil for 86. The 18-year-old was trapped plumb in front while trying to hit a sweep shot. When he was dismissed, Afghanistan required another 122 runs in less than 15 overs.
Afghanistan finally realized the worth of Najibullah Zadran and promoted him to number five. He looked in good nick but the pressure of chasing a big target forced him to play one shot too many. Afghanistan is known for their fighting spirit and Asghar Afghan was not going to die wondering. He played his shots and kept the hopes alive in the camp but once he was dismissed for 40 after he failed to clear the boundary off Brathwaite’s bowling the hopes extinguished.
In the end Sayed Shirzad’s 17 ball cameo of 25 meant they were all out for 288, their highest score, batting second in ODIs. Both the team entertained us and the ending was not going to be any different. The crowd erupted with joy when Shirzad miscued a lofted drive just to find Allen at extra cover who almost did a somersault to take one of the catches of the tournament.