Cricket can be a funny game.
After fairly comfortable wins against South Africa, Australia and Pakistan, Virat Kohli and Co were provided their sternest test at the 2019 World Cup yet by the lowest-ranked side in the tournament. More than 15 millions viewers were shown watching the match on the official streaming platform for the match when Mohammad Shami bowled the 100th over of the game. And the face that either side could have won the match from there is a credit to the bowlers from both sides and a sensational half century by Mohammad Nabi.
Afghanistan were ultimately edged out by 11 runs as India maintained their unbeaten start to the tournament.
Here’s how the players performed in the match:
Batting: 30 off 53 balls
It’s not often in recent years that both the Indian openers disappoint in an ODI, and when they do, the team invariably gets a below par total. KL Rahul was only opening for the second time with Rohit Sharma, but despite the assurance now that he is going to have that position because of Shikhar Dhawan’s injury, he played like a man beset by fear of losing his place in the squad. After doing the hard work early on to negotiate the first powerplay, Rahul played a reverse sweep off Nabi to throw his wicket away. The manner of dismissal as much as the dismissal itself is what makes Rahul such an infuriating customer at times.
Batting: 1 off 10 balls
Not his day, simple as that. Mujeeb ur Rehman bowled a superb delivery that would have deceived most opening batsmen in the world, and even an in-form Rohit could not pick that carrom ball that straightened. A dream delivery for any spinner.
Runs: 67 off 63 balls
Sample this stat: India made 224/8 in 50 overs, scoring at 4.48 runs per over. And Virat Kohli, during his innings of 67 off 63 balls, scored at 6.38 runs per over. If anything, this just proved the importance of the ability to rotate strike when the pitch was tricky. There is no one better than Kohli at the moment in this side. He would be disappointed that for the first time since 2011 he has not converted three straight fifty-plus scores into hundreds but he is due a big one in this tournament now. Had a good outing as a captain too (his ICC fine notwithstanding), with shrewd bowling changes and trusting his main weapons to do the job.
Batting: 29 off 41 balls
After Kohli’s strong backing at the toss, Vijay Shankar had a day that he would rue more than remember personally. He gave himself a solid platform to build an innings from and then got out missing a sweep shot completely off Rahmat Shah’s part-time leg-spin. And then in the field, seemed to be a yard or two off the pace than he is usually. A few misfields, a catch that he did not do enough to get to (off Nabi especially)...was fitness an issue? Hard to tell, but it was an opportunity missed to impress for the all-rounder.
Batting: 28 off 52 balls
Wicket-keeping: 1 stumping
Over to Sachin Tendulkar for this one: “There were more than 2-3 dot balls [during the Dhoni-Jadhav partnership]. After Virat got out in the 38th over and till the 45th over we hadn’t scored many runs. There were not enough outings for the middle order batsmen till now and that put pressure on them. But the intent could have been much better by the middle order batsmen.”
The display with the bat by Dhoni is nothing new. When the pressure is on, especially batting first, and the pitch is slow, run-scoring has become an ordeal for the former captain. It’s been apparent for a long time now, and it seems to be something the Indian think-tank seems ready to put up with for the other qualities Dhoni offers.
Batting: 52 off 68 balls
It’s difficult to be too critical of Jadhav when was he one of three batsmen to cross fifty on the day and finished with a healthy strike rate. He made up for his slow going in the partnership with Dhoni with some useful hits later in the innings. But the fact that Kohli chose to not go to him as a bowling option on a slow pitch makes you wonder if Jadhav’s position in the side is better utilised by playing an X-Factor player like Rishabh Pant or even Ravindra Jadeja.
Batting: 7 off 9 balls
A performance where his bowling came in more handy than his batting. This Southampton pitch was not the sort that suits Pandya’s explosive ball-striking skills. And when he came on to bowl, he was taken for 20 runs in his first two overs.
It was clear that the Afghanistan batsmen were going to attack the weakest link of the bowling lineup. But he bounced back well with... well, bouncers. Effectively using his short ball, Pandya went for just 31 runs in the remaining 8 overs and picked up two wickets (at points when Afghanistan started to consolidate). That’s the mark of a good all-rounder: a chance to make up for a bad day in one department.
Batting: 1 off 2 balls
Chetan Sharma in 1987, Mohammad Shami in 2019. It was 32 years in the making, and when India’s second hat-trick in World Cup history came, it was in a moment that is likely to be as iconic as the first. Sure, Bumrah (more on him later) made Shami’s life easier with that extraordinary 49th over but it still took a lot of character from Shami, playing his first match after a long break without competitive cricket, to bowl the way he did against Afghanistan.
Batting: 1 off 1 ball
Not a bad performance from Kuldeep per se but he would have loved to chip in with the wickets on a pitch that was definitely suited for spinners more than pace. But Yadav thrives on sharp turn, while the slow turn on offer nullified his threat somewhat. Still, a useful spell where he did not bowl boundary balls and kept the pressure on Afghans.
Jasprit Bumrah (Player of the match)
Batting: 1 off 1 ball
Yes, Shami was brilliant with his hat-trick but it was Bumrah who led the attack with brilliant authority yet again.
What can be said about Bumrah that is not already been said or written: a double-wicket maiden to start his second spell when India were getting desperate for wicket; Six pin-point yorkers in the 49th over after being hit for a six in the 47th, and a whopping 37 dot balls in his 10 overs. One has to still pinch themselves to realise that the world’s best fast bowler is an Indian. Player of the match, Kohli’s ace up the sleeve.
When Kuldeep does not get you, Chahal will. No stranger to bowling in pressure situations, Chahal’s two overs in the death were as important as the two wickets he had taken in the match. And bamboozling the opponent’s star leg-spinner (Rashid Khan) must have felt extra special. To go with a solid spell of bowling, Chahal took a superb catch in the deep to provide the breakthrough that saw India dismiss a well-set Rahmat Shah.