Afghanistan holds India to a tie

India and Afghanistan were tied on 252 runs each after 99.5 overs of riveting cricket.

Afghanistan players form a huddle in delight after taking Ravindra Jadeja's wicket.   -  AP

MS, not the man leading India for the 200th ODI but the man from Afghanistan who has idolised the Indian stalwart, had lit up what was supposedly the last dead rubber of the Asia Cup at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

A combination of brilliant start followed by poor shot-making by the openers, bad decisions by umpire Gregory Brathwaite, spirited fightback by the Afghanistan fielding and bowling unit meant the sparse crowd that waited till the end was delighted to see yet another thrilling finish to the match. While India was dejected, Afghanistan would be happy to end its campaign by avoiding a hat-trick of so-near-yet-so-far losses in Super Four.

In the end, both teams were tied with totals of 252 to bring what was a fitting end to a nail-biting finish. Afghanistan's 252 for eight – thanks to a hurricane hundred by Mohammad Shahzad, the wicket-keeper batsman who idolises M. S. Dhoni and a final flurry by Mohammad Nabi – was always going to be a tricky target to chase.

As it happened

With seven runs required off the last over and last-man Khaleel Ahmed for company, Ravindra Jadeja hit a four – although the replays indicated the ball may have hit the boundary skirting on the full. The next ball was a single. With two from three, Khaleel managed to scamper a single after somehow managing to connect his bat on to the ball off Rashid. Jadeja's attempt to clear mid-wicket then resulted in Najibullah Zadran accepting the catch as the teams were levelled on scores with one ball remaining.

Ambati Rayudu and K. L. Rahul – opening the innings with captain Rohit Sharma and his deputy Shikhar Dhawan rested along with regular bowlers Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah – gave India a rollicking start. But once Rayudu threw his wicket by holing out in the deep in the 18th over after a 110-run opening stand, Rahul was soon bitten by the bug as he attempted an audacious reverse sweep off Rashid. Moreover, in consultation with Dinesh Karthik at the other end, he even reviewed what looked like a straightforward decision.

Had Rahul not wasted the review, either captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni – who returned to lead India after almost two years – or Karthik would have survived bad umpiring calls later in the innings, which may have helped India retain its winning streak in the tournament.

Had Mohammad Shahzad not whacked the Indian bowlers with disdain earlier in the afternoon, Afghanistan would have struggled to set up a respectable target of 253 for India. Shahzad came out all guns blazing and played perhaps the most memorable knock of his ODI career. Shahzad, whose posture reminds fans of Arjuna Ranatunga and is perennially considered unfit in modern-day cricket, targetted debutante Deepak Chahar early on. The bowler's first two overs saw Shahzad slapping two fours and a six and the tone was set for the day.

The highlight of Shahzad's innings was the ease with which he manufactured shots and cleared the fence. None of his seven sixes was even slightest of mishit, with a few leaving even Dhoni behind the stumps stunned. So dominating was Shahzad all through the innings that he reached his hundred when Afghanistan had tallied just 132 runs on the board.

Even though Jadeja and Kuldeep spelled doom into the Afghan middle-order – leaving it reeling to 82 for four from 81 for one in just six balls, with Kuldeep scalping two in two – Shahzad didn't stop. With Gulbadin Naib focussing on seeing off Kuldeep, Shahzad went after Jadeja, hitting him for consecutive sweeps, one to fine-leg for a four followed by the biggest of his sixes over cow corner.

With Naib continuing to block, Shahzad and Afghanistan's scoring rate slowed down but the most awaited moment for him came in the 29th over when he glanced Chahar and followed it up with a prolonged celebration. Considering that his fifth ODI hundred was his first against a top Test nation, Shahzad deserved to take his time before continuing the onslaught.

The 50-run partnership was broken three balls hence with Chahar celebrating his first ODI wicket when Naib flicked him straight to Kedar Jadhav at deep backward-square. It was Jadhav, the bowler, who was fortunate to end Shahzad's onslaught as the tiring batsman holded out to long-on just when Mohammad Nabi was getting set for a late charge.

Nabi ensured that Afghanistan finished on a high and became the first team since Hong Kong in India's tournament-opener to put on 250-plus on the board versus the tournament favourite.

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