Spirited Afghanistan succumb to bouncers
Afghanistan certainly weren't overawed, but struggled against short-pitched deliveries, losing five out of their eight wickets to bouncers. As promised India played as they would against a top team, setting up an easy chase and finishing it solidly - without flair and major hiccups. Noor Ali, compact against the quicks and happy to use his feet against spinners, was Afghanistan's best batsman by a fair distance, helping them recover from 29 for 3 with a near run-a-ball fifty. As a fielding unit, they looked like they belonged: tall left-armer Shapoor Zadran's pace impressed, as did the spin of Mohammabi Nabi and Samiullah Shenwari.
The Afghans have learnt most of their cricket in Pakistan, and Noor and Asghar Stanikzai, who scored 80 of the 115 runs, may well have been rescuing a Pakistan innings after a collapse. On the either end of their 68-run partnership, though, the Indian quicks used the bouncers well enough to secure two easy points.
Karim Sadiq, the other opener, showed early signs of nerves, playing and missing thrice before gloving Ashish Nehra down the leg side. Mohammad Shahzad, the bulky wicketkeeper-batsman, too tried big unwieldy shots and was caught down the leg side while the replays suggested that the ball might have gone off the helmet grille. The decision notwithstanding, it was clear the short ball was troubling them.
MS Dhoni, though, decided to give his spinners a healthy bowl - with immediate effect. Nowroz Mangal, Afghanistan's captain, didn't get a flowing start and ended up hitting Ravindra Jadeja's fourth delivery straight down mid-off's lap. A wicket-maiden, followed by three more tight overs, was a good way to come back to high-profile cricket for Jadeja, who was dubiously banned from the IPL.
Upon Mangal's dismissal, Noor and Stanikzai played sensibly. There were no needless fancy shots, no panic-stricken running as the two went about rebuilding. Noor, who started with a couple of leg-glances against Praveen Kumar, was more comfortable against spin, hitting Jadeja over extra cover for four, and maintaining a strike-rate of over 100 throughout. Stanikzai, though he seemed stuck against spin, pulled out the big shots over wide long-on to collect three sixes. All three Indian spinners got the treatment.
By then Dhoni had had enough with the spin and brought back the quicker bowlers. Zaheer Khan, who seemed to be lacking a bit on pace, was hit over extra cover by Noor, but Praveen and Nehra pulled Afghanistan back. Within four deliveries, Noor, Stanikzai and offspinning allrounder, Mohammad Nabi, were caught unawares on the front foot by bumpers. The backbone of the line-up gone, Afghanistan could manage only 18 in the remaining 2.4 overs.
Despite being put to the sword by M Vijay, Afghanistan didn't come apart in the field. They were energetic enough to save four certain runs off a Gautam Gambhir square-cut. A frustrated Gambhir jumped down the track next ball and found the fielder at cover-point on the full. They were brave enough to try spin inside the Powerplay: Shenwari trapped Suresh Raina with a straighter, quicker one in his first over.
By then, though, Vijay had got into his stride, having moved to 21 off 16. With Yuvraj Singh, struggling a bit before hitting a few sweetly, Vijay went about ruling out any chances of an embarrassment. Once close enough, thanks to an ill-disciplined over from Sadiq, Vijay tried the big hits. With 16 coming off that Sadiq over and two sixes two overs later, India moved from 67 in 10 overs to 101 in 13. Vijay missed a half-century on debut, but a satisfactory win had been ensured.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo