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How Mohammad Nabi almost hustled a big upset for Afghanistan over India

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Hussey: The whole of India is breathing a huge sigh of relief (1:29)

Michael Hussey and Murali Kartik discuss the end of the dramatic match at the Hampshire Bowl, which saw India beat Afghanistan by 11 runs. (1:29)

KL Rahul is on one knee. The bat is turned in his gloves. His reverse sweep is in motion. But the ball he is awaiting is hanging in mid-air. Like a painting in a gallery. When eventually it arrives, Rahul is so off balance, he can only send it floating to short third man, those extra split seconds of flight having drawn the power from his shot. It is not a remarkable ball. There are no eye-catching revs. No drift. Barely an iota of turn.

But the bowler, Mohammad Nabi, is not trying to be remarkable. He is not trying to dazzle you. Man is here to hustle.

Sixteen overs later, another less-than-special delivery, another swindle. On a sticky pitch on which other batsmen are dragging the weight of their own labours around, Kohli is gliding, transcendental. Nabi has bowled 18 deliveries at Kohli, and never appeared threatening. But looking like getting him out is not the thing; the thing is to get. With his 19th ball, this humdrum bowler floats a slightly wide ball at perhaps the most extraordinary batting being on the planet right now. He invites the cut. A little overspin. A half-bat width of extra bounce. Another catch at third man. A hustle.

Watch on Hotstar (India only): Highlights of Nabi's performance

Almost no bowler in the world appears to be doing so little, and yet leaves an imprint so indelible. Without Nabi's outstanding returns through the middle overs - nine overs in which he did not conced a single boundary, and only one two - India's innings might have entered those higher gears - the kind which, so often, there is no shifting them down from. Beyond the two vital wickets, his economy rate of 3.66 was the best for Afghanistan.

Bat in hand, Nabi is almost more nondescript. His cut shot looks like it was mass produced in Japan - a sturdy, working, repeatable thing. His drives are prefabricated, cement and stone. There is a little grace to his pull, but he never admires the shot. His weight has moved forward the moment the ball has left bat, pressing forward in search of another run. When Afghanistan were hounding India down though those tense, late stages, it was always Nabi calling his partner through, turning those ones into twos. It was always Nabi who was hustling hardest. Nabi, who kept coming at India, refusing to go away.

"At times, we felt the way Nabi was playing was irritating," Mohammed Shami, who ended the match with a hat-trick, said. "But we were also conscious of the fact that we did not want to show the opposition that we were irritated. We were very clear that if we get his wicket, then the match is ours. He alone was a batsman who could build his innings and score. You have to remain aggressive in those situations."

Nabi's four off Shami at the start of the 45th over re-energised a chase that seemed to have acquired a limp. His six over midwicket in the 47th over made death-overs master Jasprit Bumrah seem human, if only briefly, before the bowler started nailing his yorkers again.

With 16 needed off the last over, and a specialist wicketkeeper for company, the match seemed beyond Afghanistan, but a mighty four down the ground off Shami raised the final hackles of hope, before they were lowered again, with Nabi's holing out to long on - the wicket that precipitated the hat-trick.

It was no surprise, though, that it was Nabi that very nearly delivered a famous victory, and turned Afghanistan's campaign around. Rashid Khan is an otherworldly talent. Mujeeb Ur Rahman has his sleight of hand. But when the team is in a destructive spiral, going from loss to embarrassing loss, it took Nabi and his hustle to bring Afghanistan roaring back.