After high-scoring ventures, the World Cup seems to have taken a turn towards the relatively modest total and the attendant nervous chase when palms turn sweaty and throats get parched. The trend was evident at a sun-bathed Hampshire Bowl here on Saturday.
On a sluggish surface, India scored 224 for eight and bowled out Afghanistan for 213 in 49.5 overs. Fringed by the woods on one side, a golf course on the other, the sea of blue at the packed ground erupted in joy when India won by 11 runs.
Afghanistan needed a good start but openers Hazratullah Zazai and Gulbadin Naib were in a rush and the former lost his timber after doing an across-the-line hoick against Mohammed Shami, who replaced the injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the Indian eleven. Meanwhile, Naib, who clattered Hardik Pandya repeatedly to the mid-wicket fence, miscued a pull off the Indian all-rounder and Vijay Shankar waited for eternity and caught well.
Afghanistan was 64 for two and briefly hope floated as Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi displayed assurance. Just as the Indian fans turned anxious, Jasprit Bumrah inflicted a twin-blow in an eventful 29th over. Shah survived a massive shout for LBW but top-edged a pull off India’s spearhead. Shahidi too fell immediately, popping a leading edge back to the bowler. Afghanistan at 106 for four and India was in with a sniff.
Mohammad Nabi (52, 55b, 4x4, 1x6), however, kept the flame alive, launching the odd hit – a mighty six off Bumrah, getting a successful review against an LBW appeal from Shami to enthuse the sprinkling of Afghans in the audience. Virat Kohli, M.S. Dhoni and the bowlers constantly discussed strategy and it boiled down to 16 from the last over bowled by Shami. Nabi struck a four, refused a single off the next, found the fielder on the ropes in the third and then Shami dismissed the last two to register a pulse-pounding hat-trick.
Earlier, Kohli elected to bat on winning the toss and it was left to him (67, 63b, 5x4) and Kedar Jadhav (52, 68b, 3x4, 1x6) to hold the innings together while the rival spinners spun an adhesive web. Openers Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul had to cope with the slow art as off-spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman wheeled in the first over. In a while, Rohit played inside the line to a carrom ball from Mujeeb, and got castled in the fifth over.
Soon a turgid phase of consolidation followed as Rahul and Kohli buckled down for their 57-run second-wicket partnership. Rahul punched a four off Aftab Alam and the seamer also faced the scorching heat of Kohli’s blade. Yet, largely it was all about the watchful gaze until Rahul tried to be impish and perished.
The opener uppishly reverse-swept off-spinner Nabi straight to the fielder at short third-man. Finally Shankar stepped in at number four, a slot the chairman of selectors led by M.S.K. Prasad promised in the run-up to the World Cup. Shankar adroitly played second fiddle to his captain as a 58-run third-wicket alliance took shape.
Naib pressed Rashid Khan into service from the 20th over and Kohli drilled the leg-spinner’s first delivery for four past cover. Shankar too dished out the lofted shot but found a mixed bag in reviews. An appeal for LBW which was upheld got reversed but when another struck Shankar’s pad, there was no respite.
Kohli continued unhindered but against the run of play, his uppish cut off Nabi proved fatal. It was left to Dhoni and Jadhav to revive India from 135 for four and the two preferred patience but were not averse to using the long-handle sporadically.
Jadhav slog-swept Rashid and Dhoni tucked into Naib. Still, the run-rate stayed below five while the 57-run fifth-wicket partnership evolved. In the slog, Dhoni got stumped off Rashid, Pandya failed but Jadhav, who once escaped being run-out, hung in till he succumbed during the last over. India by then had mustered just about enough to stay alive in a humdinger.
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