Dubai: It was once again so near yet so far for Afghanistan. The minnows gave India, one of the favourites for the title, a real scare. Mohammad Shami did a perfect finishing job with a hat-trick, but here we are not talking about who provided the finishing touch, but whose performance provided the turning point. Jasprit Bumrah, the leading bowler in the world in One Day Internationals, delivered when the chips were down, not once or twice but three times in two different overs.
The Indian pacer struck a twin blow when Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi threatening to build a crucial partnership for the third wicket, which would have given the perfect platform for the Twenty20 specialists to launch a counter-attack later in the innings. Later, needing 21 off 12 balls, Bumrah bowled a perfect 49th over by giving just five runs, giving an improbable target of 16 off the last over against another limited-over specialist Shami off the last six balls. They eventually succumbed to the pressure.
Afghanistan did themselves proud by doing everything right - their bowling and field were spot on in keeping the famed Indian batting line-up under pressure, and they showed plenty of courage while chasing a small but stiff total on a wicket that was extremely difficult to keep the scoreboard moving. But where they erred was in the strategy to chase the target.
Afghan batsmen were very cautious and played many dot balls, which was fine as the asking rate was only 4.5 runs per over. But after playing themselves in, they erred in gifting their wickets to bad shots, a double whammy as the new batsmen had to grapple with the increasing run rate while also protecting their wicket.
Mohammad Nabi managed to do both, scoring 52 off 55 balls, but the lack of support from the other end finally forced him to take the chance in the final over and became the first of Shami’s hat-trick. On a positive note, Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s untimely injury has proved a blessing in disguise for India as it was due to Bhuvi’s absence that Shami was drafted into the team, playing his first game of this World Cup.
Afghanistan bowling lived up to its reputation of testing the best on ideal conditions. The spinners struck early blows and put the breaks on Indian innings, which plunged towards the end. Thanks to half-centuries from Virat Kohli and Kedar Jadhav, the Indians had something to defend, which they managed successfully in the end.
Kudos to Afghanistan for a valiant effort!