World Cup 2019: Afghan's spin chokes India on sluggish pitch

Virat Kohli’s 67 and Kedar Jadhav’s 52 held the innings together on a sluggish surface where the Afghanistan spinners spun an adhesive web.

Kohli scored a 63-ball 67 before perishing to leave India in trouble.   -  AP

After high-scoring ventures, the World Cup seems to have taken a turn towards the relatively modest total and the attendant nervy chase. The trend was evident in a sun-bathed Hampshire Bowl here on Saturday and at lunch, India scored 224 for eight against Afghanistan.

Virat Kohli’s 67 (63b, 5x4) and Kedar Jadhav’s 52 (68b, 3x4, 1x6) held the innings together on a sluggish surface where the Afghanistan spinners spun an adhesive web.

Earlier, Kohli elected to bat on winning the toss and the sea of blue roared from the stands. Fringed by the woods on one side, a golf course on the other and with some lucky guests watching from their balconies in the Hilton Hotel located on the premises, the ground was abuzz.

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Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul strode out and if the crowd was all about energy and adrenaline, out in the middle the slow art of spin was in vogue. Off-spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman opened proceedings and Rahul and Rohit bided their time. The latter, though, played inside the line to a carrom ball from Mujeeb, and was castled. India had lost its first wicket in the fifth over and the Afghans were a happy lot.

What followed was a turgid phase of consolidation as Rahul and Kohli buckled down. The 57-run second-wicket partnership proved to be a gradual accumulation of runs as Afghanistan employed spin on one end and pace from the other. Rahul punched a four off seamer Aftab Alam and edged the next delivery between the wicket-keeper and first slip. The speedster also faced the scorching heat of Kohli’s blade as two fours were struck with minimum fuss. Yet, largely it was all about the watchful gaze and steady hands until Rahul tried to be impish and paid the price.

Dhoni struggled to accelerate against Afghanistan's spinners. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

 

The opener reverse-swept off-spinner Mohammad Nabi straight to the fielder at short third-man, and walked away in despair. Finally Vijay Shankar entered at number four, a slot the chairman of selectors M.S.K. Prasad mentioned about in the run-up to the World Cup. Shankar was measured in his approach, playing second fiddle to his captain as a 58-run third-wicket alliance took shape.

Gulbadin Naib held back leg-spinner Rashid Khan for a long period before pressing him into service in the 20th over. Kohli, eager to dominate, stepped out and did his inside-out slap-drive to drill Rashid’s first delivery for four past covers. Shankar, too, dished out the lofted drive but he found a mixed bag in reviews. A strong appeal for LBW that was upheld got reversed but when another struck Shankar’s pad past a failed sweep, it was his turn to seek the third umpire’s intervention. There was no respite this time and the frustrated batsman had to leave.

Kohli, meanwhile, etched his fifty and just as he was hinting at the fifth gear, an uppish cut off Nabi proved to be his undoing. And this tale of soft Indian dismissals served as the backdrop for M.S. Dhoni and Jadhav to revive India from 135 for four. The two preferred patience and the hurried single but were not averse to the long-handle when opportunity arose.

Jadhav slog-swept Rashid and Dhoni tucked into Naib’s second spell. Still, the run-rate was a sedate sub-5 while the 57-run fifth-wicket partnership evolved. And like previous dismissals that occurred against the run of play, Dhoni jumped out to lash Rashid and got stumped. And it was left to Jadhav, who once escaped being run-out, and Hardik Pandya to strike in the final stretch. The latter failed but Kedar hung in before succumbing during the last over.