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Abhishek Purohit in Colombo
September 20, 2012
While India were expected to win, Afghanistan were supposed to display the spark and fight that have made them a top second-rung team. They are the underdogs everyone loves. Almost every wicket they took and boundary they struck was cheered in the press box - the loudest reserved for Mohammad Shahzad's promised helicopter shot.
Their captain Nawroz Mangal had said before the game that Afghanistan wanted to compete, and prove that they belong to the top level. And compete they did. For more than three-quarters of the match, they kept up with India, refusing to let them get ahead and jolting them repeatedly. But their inexperience showed when they were found wanting at critical moments - dropping several catches, failing to keep wickets intact for a late charge, and so on.
Kabir Khan, the Afghanistan coach, acknowledged the slip-ups but said his side had had a chance of upsetting India.
"We made a few mistakes on the field. The boys dropped a few catches," Kabir said. "That could have reduced India's total by at least 15-20 runs. And while batting, at some stages we were well in the game but then we lost a couple of wickets in a very short time. Overall, I would say our team played much better compared to the last World Twenty20 game against India [in 2010]. I think we have impressed them. Our performance was impressive but we could have done better."
Kabir didn't think the dropped chances had a huge impact on the total India managed, saying that their batting depth would have bailed them out anyway. "Had we taken those catches, it would have meant one quality batsman following another. They would have scored at least 140 in any case. Sometimes in cricket, you take one wicket, you follow it up with some more wickets. But the way we started, I thought even 160 was chaseable. If we had batted a little sensibly, we could have achieved it."
Afghanistan had planned to target the part-timer with India going in with four specialist bowlers, but Yuvraj Singh ended up taking three crucial wickets. "We knew they were one bowler short as they were playing with four bowlers. We were looking to play Ashwin a bit defensively and not give him wickets because he was the only one who was going to create problems on that wicket because it was not supporting pace bowlers at all. There was a chance. We thought if we played Ashwin well and scored off the other bowlers, and cashed in on the four overs to be bowled by the non-regular bowler, we had a very good chance."
They had a sniff alright. Virat Kohli felt Afghanistan were tricky opponents for India to face. "They had nothing to lose so that too is a big factor which is not discussed much, that when you are playing against a team that is ranked lower they have nothing to lose," Kohli said. "When they come out to bowl they will go all out and the same applies to their batting. They will come out and play their shots and if they can execute them then it is a problem for the bowling side."
In the end, though, Kabir felt Afghanistan's lack of exposure at the highest level - this was only their fifth international game against a Test-playing side - was the difference.
"That's a factor because those boys are not exposed to international cricket."
"Just the sheer pressure of playing the side we were playing, the crowd, the cameras... it all came together. I have to point out that those who dropped catches are very good fielders. I think the pressure factor came into it. India as a big team knows how to handle pressure. Then again, we also play less international cricket, and less against the top teams. We played India only twice in two years but if we had played them five or six times, the result could have been different."
The day when it actually is different may not be far off, provided Afghanistan are given the opportunities they deserve.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Abhishek Purohit
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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