Afghanistan give India scare but run out of gas
India 159 for 5 (Kohli 50, Raina 38, Shapoor 2-33) beat Afghanistan 136 (Nabi 31, Balaji 3-19, Yuvraj 3-24, Ashwin 2-20) by 23 runs
Bubbling with enthusiasm and energy, Afghanistan gave India a scare with the ball and a half with the bat, but 20 overs proved to be too long a time for them to sustain that quality and keenness. They could have had India at 79 for 5, but dropped Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina within eight deliveries only for the two to add a total of 53 further runs. They also conceded 16 extras to facilitate India's recovery to 159 runs, but Mohammad Shahzad, Nawroz Mangal and Mohammad Nabi chased with spirit and with gusto, taking them to within 43 with four overs to go, but R Ashwin dismissed Nabi for a 17-ball 31 to kill the chase.
Two sides turned up at the R Premadasa, the underdogs who were clearly enjoying their day on the world stage, and the fancied team who seemed to have the weight of the world on their shoulders. With India's bowling and fielding nearly conceding 160 against an Affiliate team, MS Dhoni surely has the weight of the world firmly on his shoulders. Bigger tests await India, but tonight was about Afghanistan putting up the first show for a minnow in this tournament.
It was the tall left-arm seamer Shapoor Zadran who gave Afghanistan an intentful start. The first ball he bowled, the first of the match, was dug in short even if wide outside off. By the end of that over he was beating Gautam Gambhir for pace. The official broadcasters recorded it at 150.3kmph. In his next over he got one to stop a touch, and Gambhir played on. That earned Shapoor a third over at the top, and he finished his job on Virender Sehwag: beaten twice outside off before edging through.
At 22 for 2 in the fifth over, Kohli respectfully expressed his inability to do anything wrong, reaching a sixth fifty in his last six international innings. When he lofted Gulbodin Naib for a straight six in the eighth over, the run-rate crossed six for the first time since the innings first achieved some shape. The spinners, though, put a lid on that momentum. Yuvraj Singh edged a cut to short third man off Karim Sadiq in the 11th over.
Sadiq and Nabi proceeded to exert pressure on new man Raina who soon lobbed straight back to Nabi, but perhaps in his eagerness to celebrate he let it spill. In the next over, Sadiq nearly got his second but the hit burst through Samiullah Shenwari's hands at long-on. From a possible dominating position, Afghanistan had now let indiscipline creep in both their fielding and bowling. Shapoor came back to go for 14 in his last over that included a typical extra-cover drive from Kolhi and a high full toss to Raina.
In the next over, Raina was dropped again. Dawlat Zadran came back to get Kohli a ball after he had reached his fifty, but he undid his good work with six wides in the 19th over that also incuded three lovely yorkers. Nabi bowled a superb 20th over full of yorkers until providing Dhoni with two low full tosses that he sent for four and six.
That wasn't about to dent Shahzad's spirit, who had promised a Dhoni-style helicopter shot in the lead-up to the match. He duly delivered it, off a full ball from Zaheer Khan no less, and Afghanistan were 24 for 0 in three overs, just the rate they needed. L Balaji stopped that rot for India by getting Shahzad with a bouncer, but Afghanistan were far from giving up.
Mangal hit Balaji and Irfan Pathan for a six and a four, sending Dhoni to his magic man Yuvraj, who delivered immediately with an lbw off a straight delivery. When he took two in two in the 12th over to reduce Afghanistan to 75 for 4, the game seemed over. India's bowling weakness, though, was about to raise its head. Nabi hit Zaheer's length bowling for 16 in the 16th over, and if India didn't quite panic they couldn't have been far off.
In the next over, though, Ashwin did Nabi in with a long pause before delivering, and getting him to mis-hit to long-off. That flattened the chase, but it was an effort that a lopsided tournament so far badly needed.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo