A walk in the park for India

Afghanistan skipper Mohammad Nabi conceded that his team had much to work on if it had to compete with the big boys. By Arun Venugopal.

As if the meandering drabness that took over the India-Afghanistan game wasn’t enough, there was a truism-drenched press conference lying in wait for the scribes. Ajinkya Rahane, a fine purveyor of elegant strokes and a soft-spoken young man, was the one peddling the clichés. He had earlier appeared for a presser in the Asia Cup and spewed the obvious. Here he was doing quite the same. For as many variations as possible to the question on him opening the batting, and if he preferred it to playing in the middle-order, he offered a dead bat. “I am happy to score runs opening the innings. This is not in my hands. It’s up to the team management... where they want me to bat. I am happy I am batting at number four. It’s a new role for me,” said Rahane, who didn’t fight shy of employing the lines several times.

It isn’t only Rahane; these are straight out of the stock-phrase manual that cricketers around the world love to use ostensibly to get under tricky questions. Some of the stuff that Rahane used — “backing my instincts”; “looking forward to the challenge”; and “I am learning a lot” — are probably the most abused phrases in cricket. Most cricketers want to say the politically-correct thing and the last thing they want is to invite controversy to their doorsteps. Modern media-training helps them achieve that end.

In sticking to those harmless, well-rehearsed lines, though, plenty of unintended humour springs up. When Rahane was asked about Shahid Afridi’s Houdini act against Bangladesh, the Indian batsman proceeded to say: “He played really well. He really backed his instincts.” There was naturally some stifled laughter in the media conference hall.

But Rahane could be forgiven considering the delectable serving of sweetly-timed strokes that he came up with. On an otherwise dull day for batting, he and Shikhar Dhawan peppered the field with brisk shots. Dhawan hit the ball as straight as he could, and whenever he didn’t do that, targeted the square region. The slicing was down with much ferocity.

The 25-year-old Rahane blended the singles with the soothing drives that characterise his batting. He didn’t let slip any opportunity that came his way; whenever the ball was directed towards the middle or leg-stump, it was banished to the fence.

Earlier, Afghanistan’s batting wasn’t as bad as it was ill-constructed. The team’s batsmen seemed more comfortable with playing the seam bowlers as opposed to the spinners. Noor Ali Zadran, the opener, unpacked his wares with some felicity — his gallant back-foot punches have been one of the most reassuring sights of the tournament. Samiullah Shenwari was another hero that emerged in a thoroughly one-sided match.

Having already impressed with his audacious hitting against Bangladesh, the 27-year-old Shenwari brought to the fore another facet of his batting. Against the spin troika of R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, and Amit Mishra, Shenwari decided against rash stuff. He waited, unlike his mates, for the mistakes to emerge from the fielding team. Whenever the bowler missed his mark, Shenwari was at hand to make capital of the error. But there was only so much he could do as wickets continued to fall around him. Jadeja was rewarded with four wickets and the Man of the Match award for his uncompromising accuracy. Ashwin and Mishra, too, tightened the noose from the other end, and the Afghan batsmen had little clue.

Skipper Mohammad Nabi conceded that his team had much to work on if it had to compete with the big boys. “We tried to fight against them but Jadeja and Ashwin bowled really well in the first half. They found a lot of turn. In the second innings there was no turn. Score of 159 wasn’t good enough to threaten India. But we are learning how to bat for 50 overs.”

THE SCORES

Afghanistan: Noor Ali c Kohli b Jadeja 31, Mangal b Shami 5, Rahmat lbw b Jadeja 9, Stanikzai c Mishra b Jadeja 5, Najibullah c sub (Binny) b Ashwin 5, Nabi c Karthik b Jadeja 6, Shahzad lbw b Ashwin 22, Shenwari lbw b Shami 50, Ashraf c Kohli b Mishra 9, Shapoor lbw b Ashwin 1 , Dawlat (not out) 2, Extras (lb-2, w-12): 14; Total (in 45.2 overs): 159.

Fall of wickets: 1-30, 2-54, 3-55, 4-60, 5-64, 6-83, 7-95, 8-111, 9-137.

India bowling: Bhuvneshwar 8-1-25-0, Shami 7.2-0-50-2, Mishra 10-1-21-1, Jadeja 10-1-30-4, Ashwin 10-3-31-3.

India: Rahane lbw b Ashraf 56, Dhawan b Nabi 60, Rohit (not out) 18, Dinesh Karthik (not out) 21, Extras (lb-1, w-3, nb-1): 5; Total (for two wkts. in 32.2 overs): 160.

Fall of wickets: 1-121, 2-123.

Afghanistan bowling: Nabi 10-0-30-1, Shapoor 6-0-25-0, Dawlat 5-0-25-0, Shenwari 4.2-0-32-0, Ashraf 5-0-26-1, Rahmat 2-0-21-0.