Shapoor Zadran throws hard into the ground from short fine leg. He doesn't need to. But he is Shapoor Zadran. He has the power, he has the long hair that he never ties or restrains under a headband, and he will show it all off. Mohammad Shahzad refuses to risk an injury and lets the ball pass. An easy single is completed. They both look at each other. They both argue. They gesticulate. This is early doors in the Bangladesh innings. This is Afghanistan fielding, they don't believe in hiding emotion. The crowd is into it.
Two overs later, an edge goes up, Shahzad calls for it early. He has to turn enough to be in position to take this catch facing short fine leg, and he does. As he completes the catch, the first person Shahzad sees is Shapoor. And he breaks into the Dwayne Bravo "Champyan" dance. This is pure drama, and you know from those faces and their gestures what exactly is going on.
Dehradun teases the Afghan players. The Himalayan hills in the distance, the cool breeze in the evenings remind them of home. The car horns, the pollution bring them back to a foreign land, their third "home" base after Sharjah and Greater Noida. They learnt their cricket in refugee camps, and while they might be staying in posh hotels and training in the best gyms, deep down things remain the same: they are doing what they love outside their country because of issues within. They are loved here, but this is not home.
And this new base is a city that has never seen any official cricket live. Nobody knows how the people will react to this hurriedly arranged and hardly advertised series between Afghanistan and Bangladesh. There is nothing going for this series. Logistically the city has no business hosting an international match. The roads are narrow, the ground is so far out of town you are likelier to spot a wild animal than public transport to get you back. And these are two neutral teams. Why would anybody turn up?
Ask the 15000-plus that did. Ask why they walked three to four kilometres after the police barred them from taking vehicles close to the ground. Ask some of them why they braved the overbearing police's caning just to get in.
Shahzad sees the second ball of the match in his half, stands tall and helicopters it through midwicket. He is an unabashed MS Dhoni fan. He has modelled his keeping on India's most successful wicketkeeper. His aggressive shots all end in that helicopter flourish. As does this. Shahzad doesn't even look up. He told ESPNcricinfo recently that he knows where the ball is going when he nails it. Now it is up to the fielders to worry where it is going, for the umpire to decide what to signal, and for the crowd to enjoy.
There is a match to be won, a favourites tag against a more experienced Full Member to be defended, and Shahzad bats responsibly for his 37-ball 40 on a slow surface where he knows his spinners don't need much more than 140 to defend. Shahzad shows the trademark flair but not at the cost of his team's interest. Once the platform is set for that 140, with equal help from captain Asghar Stanikzai, Samiulah Shenwari and Shafiqullah show Dehradun some of the most heartfelt hitting. This is what batting is to kids: hit the ball as hard as you can. They are almost getting swept off their feet as they swing.
Now to the hero, Rashid Khan. It seems like he is playing in Mumbai one day, London the next and Dehradun a day after. He lands a day before the game, all the while observing the fast during the holy month of Ramadan, which is why he says they didn't talk much as a team, and then turns up and coolly drives the last ball of the innings over extra cover for six. "Ra-Shid Ra-Shid" the crowd goes in a tone reserved for "Sa-Chin Sa-Chin".
And when he comes on to bowl, Rashid becomes the second quickest to 50 T20I wickets with the first ball he bowls. With the next, he has another scalp. No wicket is celebrated in a routine manner. Rashid says the people of India have shown him love everywhere he went in the IPL. Why not make them happy when you are happy? Why not indeed?
The finishing touches are provided by the strapping Shapoor. He has fought injuries and terror attacks, but his hair has never lost that bounce or shine. In he bounds, 22-step run-up, the hair bouncing here, there, everywhere, and he spears a full ball in to break Rubel Hossein's leg stump into two. And he just changes his direction a little as Rubel walks past him. Enough to let Rubel know he has been had, but not enough to draw the match referee's ire. The batsman here is immaterial. There is arrogance but it is not obnoxious. This is more Mohammad Asif than Sreesanth.
This is Afghanistan. In a foreign land, in front of people who don't understand their language, fighting with each other in full public view, dancing together with pure joy, snapping stumps, chasing records, taking a crowd of strangers along. Yes, India has loved foreign cricketers before but they have had to earn those stripes against India. Now this small town with no infrastructure to host an international match is taking to a whole group of cricketers that have nothing to do with the Indian superstars. Dehradun is lucky; its people have shown they know it.