India survive Afghanistan scare

India survive Afghanistan scare

Afghanistan were defeated but hardly disgraced in their low-scoring scrap with the mighty Indians.

The Asian minnows displayed tremendous strength of character to put on an impressive show following their soul-crushing 150-run defeat against England in the previous match. Their best so far, however, wasn’t good enough to get the better of India who weren’t half as good here on a sunny Saturday.

On a sluggish pitch at the Hampshire Bowl, India, after opting to bat first, struggled to find the scoring ways barring their skipper Virat Kohli, who appeared to be batting on a different surface. He mocked the slowness of deck and rose above the disciplined Afghanistan spinners to carve a delightful 67 (63b, 5x4). Towards the back end of the innings, Kedar Jadhav battled his way to 52 (68b, 3x4, 1x6) as India posted a below par 224/8 in 50 overs.           

In a now-on and now-off chase, Afghanistan kept everyone on the edge of their seats before their innings folded at 213 in 49.5 overs, handing India a nervy 11-run win. Mohammad Shami, playing his first match of the tournament, emerged India’s hero with figures of 4/40, that included a last-over hat-trick. India have now moved to nine points from their fourth win to be third in the table.

Afghanistan made a calculated chase and at 106/2, they looked likely to pull off the upset of the tournament. Man of the match Jasprit Bumrah (2/39), summoned to get the much-needed breakthrough, lived up to his reputation removing both the set batsmen Rahmat Shah (36) and Hashmatullah Shahidi (21) in one over. Then onwards, Afghanistan stayed in the game on the back of Mohammad Nabi’s enterprising innings (52, 55b, 4x4, 1x6).

With 24 needed off the last three overs, Shami (4/40) bowled an excellent 48th over to concede just three runs. Bumrah followed it up with another good over that went for five. Nabi started the final over by Shami with a four. The next ball was a dot while the third all but sealed India’s win as Nabi holed out to long-on. The pacer then cleaned up Aftab Alam to be on hat-trick. A perfect yorker uprooted Mujeeb Ur Rahman’s woodwork as Shami emulated Chetan Sharma who is the only other Indian bowler to take a hat-trick in a World Cup (against New Zealand in 1987).      

Earlier, Rohit Sharma was stunned by a carrom ball from Mujeeb in only the fifth over of the innings, thus halting the right-hander’s prolific streak in the tournament. The Indian vice-captain, who had scores of 122*, 57 and 140 in three previous innings, saw his off-stump rearranged when he failed to cover the late spin. A cautious K L Rahul and a busy Virat Kohli kept the innings moving on. The duo had strung together stand of 57 runs in exactly 60 balls with the Indian skipper dominating the partnership.         

Having done all the hard work and having got the measure of the pitch, it was a chance for Rahul to get a big innings under his belt. With his opening partner gone, it was all the more important for the Bengalurean to stay at the wicket knowing fully well that it would be difficult for the next batsman to score smoothly on a slow surface. The 27-year-old, however, attempted an ill-advised reverse-sweep off Mohammad Nabi and the shot landed in the safe hands of short third man.

A sublime Kohli then had a 58-run association with Vijay Shankar, the first time he got to bat at No 4 though he had been earmarked for the spot for a while now. The Tamil Nadu all-rounder looked assured but a premeditated sweep off Rahmat Shah consumed him. Two ill-timed sweeps had cost India two set batsmen.

MS Dhoni came out to a rapturous welcome by the capacity crowd but he never got going, struggling to rotate the strike and finding it hard to pull off big shots against disciplined spinners. The departure of Kohli at this juncture meant that India’s scoring rate, which was just above four, took further beating, notwithstanding Jadhav’s battling half-century.

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