The match between India and Afghanistan was not touted to be a big match because the Afghans are just taking their baby steps into international cricket. The Indians, though they lost their warm up tie against the Pakistanis, were brimming with confidence and it showed from the team that Dhoni had selected for the match. He decided to go with a four-man bowling attack which showed that he didn’t expect much of a fight from the Afghani batsmen. The conditions were a bit humid with a bit of passing clouds and the pitch, a typical Sri Lankan wicket. The Afghans won the toss and elected to bowl first. The captain Nawroz Mangal stated that since their batting was their main strength, they chose to bat second.
The Afghan bowlers were not much fancied over a star studded Indian batting line up. The proceedings started smoothly for the Indians with Gambhir and Sehwag playing themselves in very well. But they didn’t last long. Gambhir was the first one to go when he inside edged the ball on to the stumps. Sehwag followed soon when he edged one from Zadran to the wicket keeper. In came Kohli and Yuvraj, trying to repair the damage. They played cautiously, getting the easy singles and doubles without taking much risk. Yuvraj hit a beautiful six on a fullish length ball from Zadran and also survived a caught and bowled chance on the bowling of M.Nabi. But Yuvraj soon departed for 18 runs when he cut one to short third man off the bowling of Karim Sadiq.
The Afghan bowlers were spot on in their line and length apart from the occasional blemishes. The fielding though, was quite pathetic. The fielders missed a couple of run out chances and three regulation catches which cost them dearly as Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli plundered them for runs. Kohli especially, went after the bowling and hit a few beautiful shots over the top and got to his 50 in style. But he couldn’t carry it forward when he got out for a well made 50 off 39 balls. MS Dhoni then joined Raina in the middle. Raina decided to cut loose and played some beautiful shots to get India to a respectable total. Raina capitalized on the lives he got and made 38 runs before getting bowled in the last over. Dhoni then hit a four and six to take the score to 159. He remained not out on 18.
The Afghans started their innings by attacking the bowler right away. Mohammad Shahzad hit some beautiful shots to get the innings going for the Afghans. He could have taken the game away from the Indians had he stayed longer. He holed out to mid-on after playing a nice cameo, giving Balaji his first wicket. Skipper Nawroz then joined hands with Karim Sadiq and played some nice shots all over the ground, giving the Indians a jolt. But their partnership didn’t last long. The skipper was the first to go when he got one on his pads, becoming the first victim of the comeback man Yuvraj.
The Afghans then started losing their way when three wickets fell in quick succession. Two of them were picked by Yuvraj and one by Ashwin. After that, they didn’t look like making a comeback and things turned in favour of the Indians. The bowlers bowled tight lines as the asking rate increase and the Afghan batsmen were under pressure. But the incoming batsmen Mohammad Nabi and Shafiqullah responded magnificently by hitting a couple of fine sixes. Irfan Pathan then came back into the attack and picked up the wicket of Shafiqullah for 8. Mohammad Nabi carried on though, in a brilliant fashion, hitting some fine boundaries before he got out for a well made 31 of 17 to Ashwin. The score was 119/7 then, with the Afghans needing 41 runs from 3 overs, which was nigh impossible.
From then on, it was a formality for the Indians though the Afghans didn’t give up easily. Even their tail enders showed some character and went for the shots and brought the total closer though they couldn’t get their team past the finishing line. The wickets were shared by Balaji(3), Yuvraj(3) and Ashwin(2) as Indian won the match by 23 runs.
I’m proud to see the Afghans playing the way they did and they deserve a lot a lot of credit for putting up such a brilliant show. Had they taken all those catches that they dropped, things could have been very different for them. Hats off to them and I’m sure they have got themselves many fans after this match. Take a bow Afghans!