India barely got going in their first two matches of the T20 World Cup, but when they finally did in this, their third, it was with a brand of cricket few teams would have been able to resist. Afghanistan were blown away here, succumbing to a crushing 66-run defeat.
Virat Kohli lost the toss once more – in his past 14 internationals he was won only once – but Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul were more than able to overcome this disadvantage. Rohit was the aggressor early on, hitting cleanly enough to clear the long boundaries, mixing booming shots down the ground with gentle lap sweeps and deft glides behind the stumps.
It did not take long for Rahul to come to the party too, his pick up shots coming cleanly off the middle of the bat. Rohit and Rahul put on 140 for the first wicket, the first time India’s opening batsmen have posted a century partnership in T20 World Cup tournaments since 2007.
Rohit went for a 47-ball 74, driving Karim Janat on the up straight to the fielder at short cover. Seven runs later Rahul was gone too, bowled by Gulbadin Naib when he missed a full delivery while attempting a lap sweep.
Rohit and Rahul had done plenty, but their wickets came at a good time for India to have fresh legs at the crease. Rishabh Pant was promoted to the No 3 and Hardik Pandya followed him.
Pant was spectacular in wrapping up the innings, hitting two one-handed sixes back over the bowler’s head as he ended unbeaten on 27. Pandya, for his part, was able to find the gaps whenever he put bat to ball, and was comfortable muscling the ball over the top, his two sixes taking India’s tally for the match to 10. India also scored 19 fours, a remarkable turnaround since their last match against New Zealand, during which they went 71 balls in the middle overs without a boundary.
With 210 on the board, India’s next target was to restrict Afghanistan to 99 or fewer, which would have given them the best Net Run Rate in their group, but Afghanistan eventually ended on 144 for seven.
Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah blasted out the openers, setting the stage perfectly for Ravichandran Ashwin, playing his first T20 international in four years. An injury to Varun Chakravarthy, the mystery spinner, allowed Ashwin back into the team and he was magnificent, bowling his four overs on the trot and picking up two for 14.
On a day when Rahul Dravid was confirmed as the next coach of the Indian senior men’s team, there was much to cheer about. India still need Afghanistan to beat New Zealand to keep their slim hopes of reaching the semi-finals alive, but at least they finally have a win in the tournament.
“In this format you have to take risks. In our last two matches it did not come off,” Rohit said. “Also we have been on the road long, and in bubbles, perhaps that affected our decision-making.”
Rashid Khan said Afghanistan could beat the best. “We have the skills, on our day we can. But we need to play a lot more against top teams so that the players, as a group, gain that belief.”