A 45-run thrashing in the first game followed by six-wicket defeat in the second, Bangladesh so far, have been completely bulldozed by the spirited Afghans in the ongoing T20I series at Dehradun. Yes, it is true that the Tigers came to the Doon Valley for the three-match tour as underdogs, but the way they have been outplayed in the first two games, it has raised quite a few eyebrows.
Interestingly, in both instances, the inability to tackle Afghanistan’s spin-trio has been the foremost reason behind the downfall of Shakib Al Hasan’s boys. In the series opener on Sunday, while defending 167 against the experienced Bangladesh batting line-up the combination of Rashid Khan (3 for 13 in 3 overs), Mujeeb Ur Rahman (1 for 20 in 4 overs) and Mohammad Nabi (2 for 21 in 4 overs) took 6 for 54 in 11 overs. And in the next game, while bowling first on that sluggish pitch, the trio, once again, proved to be the nemesis for the opponent with figures of 6 for 46 in 12 overs.
The newly laid wicket at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Dehradun is not exactly a tailor-made track for the spinners. There was no alarming turn as such, but it's the quality of the Afghan slow bowlers, which has literally made the Bangladeshis dance to their tunes. In both the games they hit the back of a length spot, allowed the ball to grip the surface and it did the trick.
Afghan skipper Asghar Stanikzai deserves a lot of credit for using the right bowler at the right moment. In both encounters, he started with Mujeeb and Nabi in the first 10 overs and bowled his trump card Rashid in the final 10. And as expected, the opponent's batsmen struggled to get runs off the leg-spinner in the death overs.
To counter this strategy, Bangladesh changed their gameplan drastically in the second match. They held back left-handers like Shakib, who batted at No 3 in the first game and Soumya Sarkar. Also, upfront, Tamim Iqbal played cautiously against the likes of Mujeeb and Nabi till the 15th over. So, at the end of 15, they were 101 for 4, aiming for a score in the range of 150. On that pitch, a score around 155-160 would have been a winning total.
However, Rashid had to bowl two of the last five overs and with three left-hand batsmen still in the bag, I must say Bangladesh positioned themselves well to launch a final assault. But the spinner proved why he is the No 1 bowler in this format.
In the 16th over Rashid got rid of Shakib, Tamim and Mosaddek Hossain and spoiled Bangladesh’s plan of a late burst.
In the very first ball of the over, Shakib tried to go down the ground but didn’t get the elevation to get out at long-on. The fourth ball was a googly and Tamin couldn’t read it as he tried to sweep and got cleaned up. In the next delivery, Mosaddek was caught in the crease and was plumb in front. Rashid was on a hat-trick, second time in as many games. He eventually finished with figures of 4 for 12.
“I was mentally ready to bowl in the middle and also in the death overs,” the 19-year-old spin sensation following the game. “The idea was to bowl that back of a length and put pressure on the batsmen. (On his triple-strike) It was a crucial time to take their wickets, we know how good they are. Just kept things simple and it worked.”
However, it will be unfair if Mujeeb and Nabi don't get due credits. Both have been a perfect foil to Rashid. Especially, the 17-year old Mujeeb has lived up to the expectations in this series following his heroics in the recently-concluded Indian Premier League (14 wickets in 11 matches with an economy rate of 6.99). The youngster hasn’t allowed the batsmen to get away up-front with a controlled line and length. Out of the 48 deliveries, he has bowled in the series so far 28 have been dot balls. This shows the impact the teenager has had on opponent’s psyche.
Nabi, on the other hand, provided important breakthroughs, whenever Bangladesh batsmen looked like steadying the ship. Also, in both matches, he maintained and an economy rate of less than six. Following this dominating show, the Afghan spin-trio has attracted a lot of eyeballs in the cricketing world and it won’t be an exaggeration if we say, they are one of the best in the business, at least in the T20 format.
With an unassailable 2-0 lead, Afghanistan have already claimed their first ever bilateral series against a full-member other than Zimbabwe. Bangladesh need to quickly find an antidote to Afghanistan's spin attack and prevent a 0-3 humiliation.