What was supposed to be a dead rubber, turned into a humdinger of a game as India and Afghanistan shared the spoils in their final Super 4 game of the Asia Cup in Dubai. MS Dhoni, featuring in his 200th ODI as the Indian captain, tied a match for the fifth time as captain. India has been involved in five Tied ODI matches in 20 years. MS Dhoni was the captain in all of them.
The Indian skipper for the night lost the toss to Afghanistan’s Asghar Afghan(Stanikzai). Apart from Sharma, India rested many other key players including Shikhar Dhawan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Yuzvendra Chahal ahead of the final. India’s pace bowling duties were handed to youngsters Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar and Siddharth Kaul, and opener Shahzad tore into the young pace trio cruising to his 50 at a bristling pace, pushing the scoreboard singlehandedly.
Of the opening stand of 65, Shahzad scored 56 runs while his partner Javed Ahmadi could only score a meager 5 off 30 deliveries. The introduction of the spin duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav brought smiles back into the Indian dressing room as they began dismantling the Afghan top and middle order, reducing them from 65/0 in the 13th over to 82/4 in the 16th. Gulbadin Naib forged a 50-run partnership with the swashbuckling Shahzad but perished off a Chahar delivery while on 15. That led to the advent of Mohammad Nabi, who played a stellar knock of 64 off 56 deliveries, carrying the responsibility of the big-hitting in the later stages after Shahzad departed in the 38th over with the scorecard reading 180/6. After Nabi’s departure, India did extremely well to peg Afghanistan back, conceding merely 9 runs off the final 3 overs, restricting Afghanistan to 252/8.
Chasing 253 off their 50, India looked set on course for yet another comfortable victory in the Asia Cup with the new opening pair of KL Rahul and Ambati Rayudu firing on all cylinders, not making India miss their usual Sharma-Dhawan combo at the top of the order. The duo put on a stand of 110 within 18 overs, scoring twin half-centuries with ease. Rayudu’s 57 came off 49 deliveries (4x4s, 4x6s), while Rahul’s 60 was slightly less pacy, coming off 66 deliveries with 5 boundaries and a six. However, Rayudu’s dismissal in the 18th over brought forth a slew of wickets as the Afghan spinners tore into the Indian middle order, with Rashid Khan (2/41) and Mohammad Nabi (2/40) being the pick of the bowlers. Dinesh Karthik tried to hold the fort at one end, knocking the ball around en route to a sedate 66-ball 44, before being caught leg-before by Nabi, which was seen in replays to have been a dubious decision by the umpire. That left India at 207/6 at the end of the 40th over, with the required run rate in control, but Jadeja being the only recognized batsman left. Jadeja played very steadily so as to not give away his wicket, and with the overs whittling down, the contest began to get nail-biting. The pressure from the Afghan bowlers also ensured that the required rate creeped up, and with 3 overs remaining, India needed 17 with 3 wickets in hand and Jadeja and Kuldeep at the crease.
Captain Asghar Afghan then turned to Rashid Khan, his ace, to bowl the 48th and 50th overs. Rashid conceded merely 4 off the 48th further increasing the pressure. The penultimate over by Aftab Alam turned out to be eventful, witnessing 6 runs and the run-outs of Kuldeep and Kaul. That left Jadeja with 7 to win off Rashid’s last over with tail-ender Khaleel for company. However, the tension seemed all for naught when Jadeja hoiked the second ball over mid-wicket, for what looked like a score-levelling sixer, but was judged by the third umpire to be merely a boundary. A couple of singles off subsequent deliveries brought India’s score level at 252. However, off the fifth ball, needing merely one run to win, Jadeja- who had till they made a very sensible 25 – managed to hole out to Najibullah Zadran, the only man Asghar had left outside the 30-yard circle. Zadran came running in to catch Jadeja’s mistimed shot and kept running with the smile of a victor, smiles that were shared by the entire Afghan team. Result: Afghanistan tied the match with India.