With India having already sealed a place in the finals and Afghanistan already eliminated, few would have expected the game to have piqued as much interest as it eventually did. Afghan keeper-batsman Mohammad Shahzad produced a scintillating hundred as the two teams Tied the match on September 25, in Dubai. The toss was won by Afghanistan, wherein there was a surprising albeit familiar sight in the form of MS Dhoni standing-in for Rohit Sharma in his 200th ODI as a captain.
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. 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. Shahzad was obviously the pick of the batsmen with his 124 off 116 balls, complete with 11 boundaries and 7 towering sixes, giving his idol Dhoni a lot to worry about throughout the innings. Jadeja and Kuldeep were the picks of the Indian bowlers, returning with figures of 3/46 and 2/38 off their quota of 10 overs respectively.
Chasing 253 off their 50, India looked set on course for yet another comfortable victory in the Asia Cup. The opening duo put on a stand of 110 within 18 overs, scoring twin half-centuries with ease. However, Rayudu’s dismissal in the 18th over brought forth a slew of wickets as the Afghan spinners tore into the Indian middle order Dinesh Karthik tried to hold 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. The pressure from the Afghan bowlers also ensured that the required rate crept 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.
The last over 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-leveling 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. They may not have won a single match in the Super Four stage of the Asia Cup, but their spirited performances showed that they belonged on the stage, and the tie against India ensures that they would at least take a point home from the contest.
Shahzad was deservedly awarded the Man-of-the-Match award, with his swashbuckling effort in the midst of wickets collapsing at the other end, winning plaudits all around. India, meanwhile, would be licking their wounds from this tie, seeking solace from the fact that it was a second-string side they featured, as they look forward to tomorrow’s clash between Bangladesh and Pakistan to see who it is that shall face them in the final.