In a nail-biting encounter at Dubai, Afghanistan once again proved they are no pushovers by pushing India to a corner and ekeing out a tie to bow out of the tournament with heads held high. Batting first, Afghanistan made 252 runs, courtesy a brilliant ton from Mohammad Shahzad and a valiant half-century from Mohammad Nabi. In reply, India were going great guns thanks to their new opening pair of KL Rahul and Ambati Rayudu but lost direction after the two were dismissed. Ravindra Jadeja took them to the cusp of victory before a wild slog off the penultimate ball saw him being the last man dismissed with the scores level.
Run through our report card from the lip-smacking contest yesterday.
In an exemplary display of flamboyance, veteran Afghanistan opener Mohammad Shahzad slammed his fifth ODI hundred, single-handedly marshaling Afghanistan in the first half of the innings. He shared a 65-run opening stand with Javed Ahmadi, scoring 60 of those runs and dug into a second-string Indian bowling attack with utmost ease. Shahzad contributed to nearly 50% of Afghanistan's total in the end.
With the belligerent Shahzad falling just before the death overs, the onus was on Nabi to ensure his efforts weren't wasted. Up until Nabi came to the wicket, Shahzad had scored 103 of Afghanistan's 132 runs. But with the flashy opener back in the hut by the 37th over, Nabi took over the mantle of aggressor-in-chief and stuck into the Indian bowlers. He hit a 56-ball 64 that included three fours and four sixes to take Afghanistan past the 250-run mark. He was stringent with the ball and picked up the opening wicket before returning to get rid of Dinesh Karthik to throw the run-chase wide open.
A switch from the middle-order to opening seemed to work wonderfully well for Rayudu in the IPL and the trend continued in the international cricket with a rare opportunity to open the batting. Flaunting his aggressive side, Rayudu raced to a half-century in 43 balls. He couldn't carry on, though, and fell to Nabi going for a glory shot soon after the landmark.
Jadeja's promising return to ODI cricket continued as he returned with figures of 3/46 from his quota of overs. He broke the opening stand with the wicket of Javed Ahmadi who had gone into a shell and struck again in his next over with the big wicket of Rahmat Shah. Jadeja added a third late in the innings to cap another impressive show. He had a bigger role to play with the bat, though, as India struggled to chase down the target. With 25 from 34 balls, Jadeja took them to the cusp before a reckless hoick saw him undo all the hardwork of the previous few overs and tie the game.
Tasked with tying up the Indian middle-order, Rashid Khan, who had earlier dismissed KL Rahul, did a pretty good job. In the final over, he had to defend 7 but conceded a four off the second ball much to Afghanistan's dismay. However, in a bizarre turn of events, he dismissed Jadeja with India needing one to win to tie the game and end a fabulous tournament for Afghanistan.
Warning the beach for the first few games, Rahul made a case for himself with a 66-ball 60 in his only chance in the tournament. Combining in a century stand with Ambati Rayudu, Rahul was fluent at the crease and appeared good enough to convert it into a hundred but an ill-fated reverse sweep spelled doom for him.
Giving the experienced Jadeja more than good enough support was Kuldeep Yadav, who made up for an ordinary show in the tournament so far by building up to the finals with an eye-catching performance. He sent back Hashmatullah Shahidi and Asghar Afghan in the same over to wreak havoc in Afghanistan's middle-order after their remarkable start.
The fast bowler was perhaps the underrated hero of Afghanistan's night at Dubai. He kept the run-rate under control and gave ample support to Mujeeb and Rashid. His four overs after the 40th cost just 18 runs and yielded two wickets — the second a direct hit he effected to catch Kuldeep short. He had earlier dismissed Manish Pandey as well and ended with figures of 2/53 in his quota of overs.
Walking in at No 3, Karthik faced a litmus test as the middle-order collapsed around him. Despite the strong platform that Rayudu and Rahul gifted, Karthik was under pressure to rally together a feeble middle-order against Rashid Khan and Mujeeb-ur-Rahman. He appeared more composed and calm than in the previous games and put on 44 in 66 balls before falling to Mohammad Nabi just as India were closing in on the target. With no recognised batsmen following him after Jadhav's wicket, Karthik should have stayed on to seal the match for India.
The young mystery spinner was used in a holding role with India’s middle-order in tatters. Mujeeb kept probing away in his final few overs, looking to break through India's resilience and put Afghanistan back in the game. He managed to run Jadhav out on his follow through and bowled a tidy 10-over spell that cost just 43 runs. In the context of the game, Mujeeb's tight spell was crucial for Afghanistan.
Jadhav was once again more than handy with the ball, using his varying delivery points to put batsmen off their plans. He kept the run-rate quiet with a spell of 1/27 in seven overs but the highlight of it was perhaps the wicket of Shahzad, who appeared good enough to single-handedly take Afghanistan to a 300-plus total. He played a decent role with the bat to salvage India’s innings from a rut in the company of Dinesh Karthik before being run-out in an unfortunate manner.
The left-arm seamer had a more than decent debut in ODIs this tournament but was forced to wait for his turn with the senior bowlers hogging positions in the side. With another chance to impress, Khaleel sent a strong message to the selectors with searing spells with the new ball and in the death. He was particularly good in the final few overs conceding 17 in his last four overs, all of which came after the 39th over.
With Nabi needing some support from one end, Zadran held his own and stitched together a 46-run partnership in quick time. Zadran contributed 20 of those runs but his focus was on putting Nabi on strike and this he did to perfection. He fell in the 45th over with Afghanistan looking to finish the innings on a strong note.
With Shahzad going on the offensive from the start, Ahmadi seemed a tad confused and got stuck in his own shell. The opener not only struggled to score, but also failed to put his in-form partner on strike. He contributed to just 5 in an opening stand of 65 and went nowhere with his 30-ball innings. His day got better, though, when he dismissed MS Dhoni at a crucial juncture in the game, albeit off a wrong decision.
Playing his maiden ODI after a string of impressive performances in the IPL and other domestic cricket, Deepak Chahar appeared to be nervous and paid the price against a rampant Shahzad. The Afghanistan opener plundered 24 in his first two overs and Chahar wasn't brought back until the 29th over when he picked up a maiden ODI wicket but continued to leak runs. He had a chance to turn his day around with the bat and though he hung around in an attempt to help India gun down the total, couldn't prolong it enough.
After being dropped from the ODI squad, Kaul had a chance to impress on being recalled for the Asia Cup but disappointed in possibly his only chance to do so. The Sunrisers seamer leaked 58 in his nine overs and went wicketless. Perhaps more telling was how he failed to contain the scoring rate in the death overs, which is supposedly his forte.
With a chance to take ownership of the lower middle-order, Manish Pandey slashed at a wide, short delivery and edged through to the keeper to leave India in a tricky spot in the run-chase. After a spectacular quadrangular series back home, Pandey had won back the selectors’ attention, but he needs to back them up with runs for the national team to remain in the radar.
Coming in at No 4 yet another time, all Dhoni had to do was carry on what Rayudu and Rahul were doing. Instead, the stand-in skipper consumed 17 balls for his eight runs, and fell to a part-time spinner, although replays suggested he was unlucky to be given out. India, though, need better from Dhoni in this ODI line-up.
Shahzad was probably doing the bulk of the scoring but the opener needed someone to egg him on from the other end and Rahmat was possibly the right man for the job. He, however, misread an arm ball from Jadeja and played all over it to be dismissed for single figures.
Following Ahmadi and Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, who was coming off the back of three successive half-centuries, was beaten in flight by Kuldeep Yadav's stock delivery off the third ball he faced. The southpaw was drawn forward and beaten in flight and Dhoni completed a terrific stumping to complete a middle-order collapse.
If Shahidi was beaten by flight, skipper Afghan was beaten by sharp turn from Kuldeep. The chinaman spinner spun the ball back in a long way to beat Asghar Afghan's defence and the ball brushed the pad before dislodging the leg-stump. A golden duck from the skipper at a time Afghanistan needed him to just stay on with Shahzad gives him a low rating.
Like Ahmadi, Naib wasted a lot of balls settling in and eventually threw it away with a flick straight to the deep fieldsman. After consuming 46 balls for 15, Afghanistan would have wanted him to make better use of the death overs. He returned to bowl four pathetic overs that leaked 41 runs to end a disastrous day on the field.
Rating chart: 10-9: Excellent, 8-7: Good, 6-5: Average, 4-3: Poor, 2-1: Very poor