The T20 World Cup caravan rolled away in dry hot Nagpur with two qualifying games revealing chutzpah, skill and a lot of heart. A rambunctious knock from Afghanistan’s Mohammad Shahzad, a brutal cameo from the Zimbabwean Elton Chigumbura, and a Scotland chase that promised much before petering away were the highlights of the opening day.
Nagpur is known for being the home of RSS of course, an organisation that promotes a brand of ethnic nationalism, but this was also the city where Ambedkar led 365,000 Dalits to convert to Buddhism through a traditional ceremony, just two months before his death in 1956. Nagpur might be almost at the centre of India but its cricket stadium is nowhere near its own centre. Instead, it lies far away in its outskirts, and without proper public transport, people have to rely on their own vehicles or shell out on autos or taxis. The old VCA stadium is still a lovely structure and is bang in the middle of the city, but as is the wont these days, a desire to have a shiny new stadium with bigger capacity means all newly-built stadiums are scattered away from the city limits.
So it wasn’t a surprise to see that not many turned up for the opening day of the tournament. A decision that would have been pretty easy to make as the day’s roster had four qualifiers — Zimbabwe v Hong Kong in energy-sapping heat, and Afghanistan v Scotland at sundown.
Not many turned up for the games on Tuesday. Batting first, Zimbabwe were dawdling a bit at 127 for 7 despite an eye-catching 55 from Vusi Sibanda, who unfurled powerful straight drives. Enter Elton Chigumbura, whose T20 strike rate is almost 150, and he smashed a 13-ball 30 with three thwacks over long-on, to push Zimbabwe to 158, a total that proved beyond Hong Kong despite opener Jamie Atkinson’s 53.
The evening game was a lot closer or so it seemed when chasing Afghanistan’s 170, Scotland rushed to 84 in 8.4 overs without loss. Kyle Coetzer and George Munsey pounced on seamers Dawlat Zadran and Gulbadin Naib or even the offspinner Mohammad Nabi. But both fell in three deliveries — Coetzer pulling a long-hop from the legspinner Samiullah Shenwari to the deep square-leg fielder, and Munsey was trapped by a quickish delivery from the googly spinner Rashid Khan. Reduced to 85 for 2, Scotland started to meander a bit, and eventually lost their way.
Not many turned up but those who did saw the batting highlight of the day from the stocky Mohammad Shahzad, the wicketkeeper-batsman of Afghanistan. He walloped boundaries to cowcorner, walked down to ping long-on, walked right across the stumps for a lapshot or two, and indulged in reverse sweeps and late dabs as he entertained everyone with his 39-ball 61. It was undoubtedly the knock of the day and has set the entertainment benchmark for this tournament.
Group B: Zimbabwe 158/8 (Vusi Sibanda 59 off 46 balls, Elton Chigumbura 30* off 13; Tanwir Afzal 2/19, Aizan Khan 2/33) beat Hong Kong 144/6 (Jamie Atkinson 53 off 44, Tanwir Afzal 31* off 17; Donald Tiripano 2/27, Tendai Chatara 2/28) by 14 runs.
Group B: Afghanistan 170/5 (Mohammad Shahzad 61 off 39 balls, Asghar Stanikzai 55* off 50) beat Scotland 156/5 (George Munsey 41 off 29, Kyle Coetzer 40 off 27, Matt Machan 36 off 31; Rashid Khan 2/28) by 14 runs