India’s famed middle-order failed against Afghanistan but their bowling line-up came to their rescue in a thriller at Southampton.
It went right down to the wire with Afghanistan needing 16 runs off the last over. And when Mohammad Nabi hit the first ball from Mohammed Shami for four... the Afghans believes. But Shami came back with a flurry of wickets and claimed only the second hat-trick by an Indian bowler to finish off the innings and help India win by 11 runs.
He got Nabi, who scored a valiant 52 off 55 balls, to hit it straight to Pandya down the ground and then followed it up by clean bowling Aftab Alam and Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
The Afghans batted sedately for most part but were pegged back by Jasprit Bumrah’s deadly two-wicket burst which sent back the well-set Rahmat Shah [36 off 63] and Hashmatullah Shahidi [21 off 45] in the space of three balls. It gave India an edge in the game and it was an edge they never lost.
All the bowlers chipped in with wickets at opportune times to help India overcome their first major challenge of the tournament.
Earlier, Skipper Virat Kohli (67 off 63 balls) again batted effortlessly before Afghanistan’s IPL stars Mohammed Nabi (9-0-33-2), Mujeeb ur Rahman (10-1-26-1) and Rashid Khan (10-0-38-1) put brakes on India’s other star batsmen, keeping them under tight leash on a slow track that offered both turn and bounce.
It was a glorious comeback by Afghanistan bowlers, as Indian batsmen played 152 dot balls (equivalent to 25.2 overs). This was after being hit for a record 25 sixes by England in the previous game.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (28 off 52 balls) and Kedar Jadhav (52 off 68 balls) were unable to accelerate against the slow bowlers adding only 57 runs in 14 overs during the middle phase.
Dhoni’s inability to rotate strike during middle overs and Kedar’s lack of game time was evident as they could never really force the pace. Worse, they didn’t even intend to take any risk against the three spinners.
While the odd ball was holding up and there was some turn available, at times, Kedar and Dhoni were even defending fuller deliveries.
The intent was missing and suddenly they were trying to play out the overs bowled by Mujeeb, easily the best of the lot with 38 dot balls to his credit.
Dhoni was finally relieved from his miseries by Rashid as the desperate former skipper came down the track and was stumped.
The amount of pressure that the duo put on Hardik Pandya was evident as he was forced to slog from ball one but failed to deliver this time getting out to pacer Aftab Alam.
Skipper Gulbadin Naib (2/51) also impressed with his seam-up stuff dismissing Kedar off the penultimate delivery of the innings.
Before this game, India lost 14 wickets in the three completed games and none of the wickets went to the spinners.
It started with India’s in-form opener Rohit Sharma being beaten by a doosra from Mujeeb as he lunged forward for a defensive stroke.
KL Rahul despite scoring 30 could never really get the measure of Mujeeb, his Kings XI Punjab teammate.
The itch to outsmart Nabi cost Rahul dearly as he tried a reverse sweep only to find Hazratullah Zazai at short third-man after a 57-run stand with Kohli.
Kohli never looked in trouble and hit one beautiful cover drive off Rashid. Vijay Shankar (29 off 41 balls) nudged around and was steady during their 58-run stand before being adjudged leg before by Rahmat Shah.
Kohli looked good for another hundred but missed three in three games, trying to cut Nabi with the turn.
Once Kohli was out, the Indian innings lost momentum.
(With inputs from PTI)