Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Rohit, Rahul hurt Afghanistan where it hurts most. We were talking, myself and KL, about how we need to get the team a good start, and how we can do that is by playing our game: Rohit
We were talking, myself and KL, about how we need to get the team a good start, and how we can do that is by playing our game: Rohit
One of the two things Afghanistan wanted to go right for them did: They won the toss and fielded. They hadn't done so the last nine times they won the toss, dating back to the West Indies series in 2019, but as Rashid Khan would later endorse, the opportunity to expose India's batting insecurities of this tournament was too good to pass by. It was the other element that undid their bright hopes from this game.
Afghanistan needed their spinners, their principal weapon of choice, to dominate. In India they had a team that had played spin with the nervousness of a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Afghanistan also had their one-man totem, Rashid Khan, who brought with him several favourable matchups loaded in his favour. He had dismissed KL Rahul thrice in 30 balls (18 runs), Rohit Sharma twice in 16 balls (19 runs) and Virat Kohli once in 24 balls (21 runs). Ishan Kishan, one of the batters with a relatively better record (64 runs in 51 balls, 1 dismissal) was sitting out.
As if to underscore the line of attack, Afghanistan brought in a left-arm spinner, Sharafuddin Ashraf, into the XI when two days ago he hadn't even been in the 15-man squad. But not only did Rohit and Rahul dismantle Afghanistan's bowling to the tune of 210 runs, they struck hardest where it hurt them most; by surgically eviscerating their biggest challenge, which in turn offset their own perceived weakness.
Nabi, brave as he is, bowled the first over for seven runs and held himself back until a more favourable matchup presented itself. That didn't materialise. In the second over, Ashraf was paddled for a four by Rohit and lofted over long-on off successive deliveries by Rahul for a four and a six. Four boundaries in the first two overs versus spin was already one more than what they'd managed in 16 combined overs of spin against Pakistan and New Zealand.
At the end of the sixth over, India were positioned at 53 for no-loss, the opening pair having thrown the spin notion into the wind. It must be mentioned at this point, however, that Afghanistan were missing the injured Mujeeb Ur Rahman to bowl in the PowerPlay and that his spin twin, Rashid, self-admittedly didn't have the luxury of bowling to rebuilding batsmen.
That said, Rohit and Rahul welcomed their biggest threat on the night by taking six of his first over. Off the first ball of Rashid's second over, Rahul pulled out the sweep to a full-length googly and found the boundary. Rohit got three sweeping to the other side. Rashid, two overs in, had conceded 17 runs. Most importantly, the pair played out a solitary dot-ball – a short ball that Rahul inside-edged on to his thigh-pad. It was a telling statistic given that, on an average in T20 Internationals, Rashid averages three dot balls per over.
Nabi parked his spin trump card after those two overs, hoping to use him to prey on a new batter later. When that wasn't forthcoming, Rashid returned for the 14th over, hoping to burgle 12 quiet balls. But now Rohit and Rahul were batting well beyond their century stand. After taking four singles, Rohit stepped out to the fifth ball and despite being beaten in the flight, used his levers to mow a six over mid-wicket. Then anticipating a flatter follow-up, he hung back and played a pick-up sweep for another six and a 16-run Rashid over.
Rashid would cite those two sixes in his post-game debrief as reasons for his fourth-worst figures (0 for 36) in T20I cricket. But Rahul and Rohit had negated his threat far earlier with their start against the left-arm spinner that would have allowed Rashid to prosper. Once that agenda-setting part of their game fell their way, the rest of the pieces seamlessly fell in place. It is what New Zealand and Pakistan didn't let them do.
“It was important for us to get off to a good start,” Rohit said. “If you talk about our batting, which didn't happen in the first two games, that's where we struggled a little bit to create that momentum in the first six overs, so there was a conscious effort. We were talking, myself and KL, about how we need to get the team a good start, and how we can do that is by playing our game, whatever that may be, however we want to play.
“But we took our chances in the middle, and it came off, so that's the whole game. You take your chances, it comes off, it comes off. If it doesn't come off, you have to start again from scratch. The batter who comes in has to start again from scratch.
“I think the approach today from everyone was different, and I wish it was in the first two games, as well, but it didn't happen.”
There is a time for ifs and buts but that is not right now. It was an important innings and an important stand. India had looked uncharacteristically nervous and tepid in Dubai and this was a game they really needed to win to stay alive in the competition against an opposition that could exploit the holes that were bared last week.
India's World Cup campaign faced a risk of coming to a complete stand-still today. They remain outsiders to qualify out of Group 2 but they will at least leave Abu Dhabi with some of their confidence revived.