There were a fair share of one-sided matches during the 2019 World Cup. The game between India and Afghanistan at the Rose Bowl, Southampton on June 22 was expected to be one of those matches, especially considering the differing fortunes that the two teams had experienced in the tournament thus far.
India came into this contest in a very comfortable position, with seven points from four matches – three wins and one no-result due to rain. In their previous match, they had secured a big win against Pakistan. Pre-tournament, the Men In Blue were considered as one of the favourites and they were living up to those expectations.
Afghanistan, meanwhile, had lost all five matches that they had played in the competition until then. It was their second appearance in ODI cricket’s premier tournament and while qualifying for the semi-finals was out of the question after a poor start, they would have hoped for at least one win in the league stage.
Interestingly, the previous 50-over game between the two sides had ended in a tie. India were not at full strength in that match during the 2018 Asia Cup, but the result would have given Afghanistan confidence that they could challenge even the best of teams.
The two teams might have been in contrasting form ahead of this match, but as early as the fifth over, there were signs that this wasn’t going to be a one-sided affair. Rohit Sharma, who had notched up two hundreds and one fifty in his three prior innings at the tournament, was dismissed for just one.
The pitch, unlike most others seen during the 2019 World Cup, was two-paced and assisted the bowlers, especially spinners. And the Afghanistan spin bowlers took full advantage of the situation.
It was Mujeeb Ur Rahman who bowled a brilliant opening spell and restricted the scoring rate of the Indian batsmen. He also took the crucial wicket of Rohit, who would end the tournament as its leading run-scorer.
Spin was used for 34 out of the 50 overs that Afghanistan bowled. While Mujeeb started the proceedings splendidly for Gulbadin Naib’s side, the trio of Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Rahmat Shah did a fabulous job later on in the innings. The economy rates of Mujeeb, Nabi, Rashid and Rahmat were 2.60 (from 10 overs), 3.66 (9 overs), 3.80 (10 overs) and 4.40 (5 overs) respectively. Contrast that to the pace duo of Aftab Alam and Naib whose economy rates read 7.71 (7 overs) and 5.66 (9 overs) respectively.
It was a struggle for the Indian batsmen, with only Virat Kohli scoring at over a run-a-ball – the India captain scored 67 from 63 deliveries. While KL Rahul and Vijay Shankar got starts, neither were able to overcome a sublime bowling performance from Afghanistan’s spinners.
The fifth-wicket partnership between MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav resulted in 57 runs, but it wasn’t smooth sailing for both batsmen as neither were able to accelerate during the death overs. Jadhav brought up his sixth ODI half-century, but India’s total of 224/8 was certainly below par.
Afghanistan might have lost the wicket of Hazratullah Zazai early, yet they seemed to be in a great position to successfully chase down the target during the first half of their innings. While Naib had been dismissed after getting a start, Rahmat and Hashmatullah Shahidi were building a promising third-wicket partnership. At the end of the 28th over, with the score reading 106/2 and the required run-rate much under six, Afghanistan were in an advantageous position.
India were in dire need of wickets and it was their strike bowler Jasprit Bumrah who delivered. The right-arm pacer sent both set batsmen back to the pavilion within the space of three deliveries.
While Najibullah Zadran and Rashid got starts, it was Nabi who stood between India and victory. With 32 runs needed off the last four overs, the Afghanistan allrounder hit Bumrah for a six off the third delivery, bringing the situation down to 25 runs needed from 21 deliveries. Bumrah responded brilliantly and conceded just one run off the last three deliveries.
There were no boundaries hit in the next two overs and only eight runs were scored. Under pressure, India’s pace duo of Mohammed Shami and Bumrah were coming out on top. It came down to 16 runs required from the final over which was to be bowled by Shami and with Nabi on strike, you knew that Afghanistan were still in with a chance.
Nabi brought up his fifty with a boundary off the first delivery – a near-perfect start for Afghanistan. He then refused a single off the second ball – if anyone was going to get Afghanistan over the line, it had to be him.
The decisive moment of the game came off the following delivery as Nabi tried to hit a full delivery for a six, only to be caught at long-on. 12 runs were needed off the final three deliveries, but you knew India weren’t going to lose from there.
Shami continued his tactic of bowling full and two such deliveries followed – both of which resulted in the stumps being disturbed. Not only had the Bengal pacer guided India to victory, he became just the second Indian bowler to take an ODI World Cup hat-trick, after Chetan Sharma in 1987.
India might have won the match, but it was a much closer affair than what many had foreseen. And for that, Afghanistan deserve a lot of credit.
India ended the league stage as the top-ranked team with 15 points – seven wins, one no-result and just the one loss which came against England. But in a gripping semi-final contest against New Zealand, the 2011 World Cup winners came up short by 18 runs.
Afghanistan ended their World Cup campaign without a win, but just like they had done against India, they put up credible performances against Pakistan and West Indies which was a good sign for the future.