Restricted to 224/5, Shami hat-trick & containment show by bowlers wins difficult day for India
A riveting duel under the sun gave two hard fought points to Team India at Hampshire Bowl on Saturday. Yes, the points went to India but the hearts were taken by the doughty Afghans who fought till the very last over and almost toppled India to a defeat after keeping them on a tight leash through both the innings.
Had a well-moving Mohammed Shami not burst their bubble with his last-over hattrick, brilliantly engineered with accuracy, pace and consecutive yorkers, Afghanistan’s Mohammed Nabi may well have led his team to a historic finishing line, after his compatriots did the needful earlier in the day.
The Afghans cordoned off the famed Indian batters, restricting them to a frustratingly slow and low 224/5 after skipper Kohli elected to bat and then made the bowlers sweat it out with every ball till the very last over.
It was a heart-warming effort by the minnows who have thus far been in the news for being mauled on field and questioned off it for pub incidents, selection fights and, players being sent home, captain being replaced and coach threatening to sing like a canary.
The latest victim of their dismal show was the otherwise much-applauded star spinner Rashid Khan whom the hosts sent to the cleaners with 110 runs and no wickets. But against India, it was, indeed, their sunshine day with their spinners restricting one of the most celebrated batting brigades to a struggle from which they never emerged.
And, when the baton was passed on to the Indian bowlers, it was a long and fierce haul they had to go through before, as Kohli would have said, ticking the right boxes to victory. At the end of the day, Afghan spinners turned more balls and heads than their big brother Indian counterparts making the game tilt in and out of reach very many times.
While Mujeeb-ur-Rehman (10/1/26) and Rashid Khan turned in an aggressive wicket-taking innings earlier in the day, recording fantastically low run rates, Chahal and Kuldeep were made to toil long in the middle, concentrating more on putting on the squeeze. Another story though that they excelled with their containment bowling which, in the end, compelled the Afghan batsmen to take suicidal chances and go under pressure of the big moment.
Mohammed Nabi, who scampered to a fast 50 plus score in the death overs, threw in an endearing rebellion, giving Kohli in the middle and the Indian fans all around many heart-stopping moments.
They came whisker close to the target, finally being bowled out to Shami’s stunning hattrick who first got danger man Mohammed Nabi to a yorker, then Aftab Alam to another one and finally Mujeeb-ur-Rehman by which time the Afghans needed 16 runs to record a historic win.
With two precision yorkers and a third ball going into the stumps with searing pace and accuracy, Shami showed class and intent in gobbling up the Afghan tail when Indians were most hungry. That was quite an Indian repeat for you 32 years in the making after Chetan Sharma achieved the same feat in Nagpur against New Zealand.
All said, it was a classic effort by the Indian arm that saved the day left wide open by their batting colleagues. Putting on the squeeze has been elevated to a fine art by Kohli’s bowlers, both the quicks in the opening overs and the spinners in the middle overs, and then all of them in the death overs.
While Shami walked back with four scalps, Bumrah, with two in an over, displayed his power and ability to bowl bang-on yorker after yorker in his last three overs, freezing the callow Afghans in their crease. Chahal, who got two a little late in his spell, was spot-on too as was Dhoni who stumped Rashid with the speed of a cheetah.
Not that the veteran master finisher showed the same pace in any form with his bat, struggling in the middle for a long time before being relieved of his ordeal at a measly 28 runs after the opening order folded up cheaply, giving the baton to him.
The expected slugfest turned into a surprisingly unexpected sluggishness after skipper Virat Kohli won the toss and elected to bat. Gloomy batting, early and cheap loss of wickets and a run rate hovering to an anorexic 4.5 till well into the death overs took away the fun from the game which was being seen as a run-rate boosting platform for the in-form Indians.
Not that the batsmen, on the wrong side of caution on hindsight, did not try but the wicket seemed to have things in it much to the delight of the Afghan spinners who turned in terrific over after over as the batsmen struggled quite unusually, failing to accelerate for a long, worrying while.
India’s slow start, punctuated by regular fall of wickets, sparse boundaries and a continuous struggle to jack up the run rate stoked a gamut of popular emotions – from cheer, to silence, to worry to bewilderment and to anger by the time the match ended with just 224 on board.
The lionised Indian opening line-up failed miserably, but for a brief flourish by skipper Kohli who turned in the top score of 67. The middle struggled even more and the Pandya fireworks made their absence felt as never before.
Dhoni behaved quite out of character, shedding his yen for rotating the strike, giving up many cheeky singles with Kedar Yadav and failing to score much after Kohli departed to an upper edge to point just when he was looking to escalate after his half ton.
Before him Shankar, Rahul and Rohit left cheaply, giving Dhoni the job to start building as opposed to finishing. India at 136/4 with a run rate of 4.4 in the 32nd over spoke as much of the Indian inaction as of the brilliant Afghan show in the middle with Mujeeb-ur-Rehman bowling tight, straight and full, joining up the dots magnificently to make the run canvas of India look empty.
Ten overs with one wicket for 26, this was Mujieeb’s best spell on the big stage. With Rashid finally taking out Dhoni at 28 to a wily stumping in the 45th over when India was at 193, the beleaguered Afghans had shown up their mettle and brilliance while the Indians were left dealing with question marks on their inertia.
Dhoni’s departure in some ways brought relief with expectations around Hardik Pandya’s hitting abilities giving some hope of fireworks to deck up a deadweight match from India’s point of view. Hardik, too, was flummoxed the way the Afghans kept on with their tight deliveries. The Indian tail for this match was like a Golden Retriever’s, longer than usual.
Jadhav left with 52 soon after Shami came and went for 1, caught in a flash at cover by substitute Noor Ali Zadran giving skipper Gulbadin Naib reason to celebrate twice in his over.
The figures showed how good the Afghan bowling was and how bad the Indian response to it turned out to be. The first boundary came only in the 6th over when KL Rahul square cut Aftab Alam. but that was only after Rohit Sharma had departed post an unusually listless existence at the crease, being bowled by Mujeeb when India was 7 and Sharma merely 1.
The next boundary came in the 10th over and the next one only in the 20th over, making fans feel the heat of the static engulfing the middle and questions popping up on the skewed Indian mindset after good shows against much bigger teams.
Yes, India won in the end but what panned out bigger than their victory was the ticklish question: Did captain Kohli misjudge the pitch in electing to bat or was it a mindset that his batsmen got into never to emerge from? Huddles will be dealing with this in days to come, but fact remains that today’s show emphasised the big crack that India is beset with in the loss of the fiery Shikhar Dhawan at the mouth.
Sunday, 23 June 2019 | PNS | Hampshire Bowl (Southampton)
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