After a smart stumping to dismiss Denesh Ramdin, Afghanistan keeper Mohammad Shahzad did a Chris Gayle. The big West Indies opener took a day off but sitting in the dugout he must have had a chuckle, looking at the poor imitation of his signature jig. Shahzad and his team, however, had the last laugh; after a six-run win over the Caribbeans at Jamtha on Sunday. The Associate lit up a World T20 dead rubber with their effervescence, passion and fighting spirit.
West Indies had already qualified for the semifinals but any suggestion of lowering their guard would be disrespectful to Afghanistan’s effort. They thoroughly deserved this victory and the crazy celebrations thereafter. It was their first-ever big win in a world event. They are arguably the most exciting team among the minnows in this format, including Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
Afghanistan had been competitive against Sri Lanka and South Africa, and they had reduced England to 85 for 7 at one stage. Today, they brilliantly defended 123 on a trademark Nagpur pitch – slow and offering significant turn.
Left-arm spinner Amir Hamza was outstanding, opening the bowling and strangulating debutant Evin Lewis, before making him play a poor shot to be dismissed for a duck. Hamza finished with only nine runs from his four overs.
Off-spinner Mohammad Nabi used all his experience, especially in the final over, when West Indies needed 10 runs to get over the line. Leggie Rashid Khan varied his pace well and bagged important scalps of Marlon Samuels and Ramdin.
West Indies looked to be well on course, thanks to a 41-run fourth wicket partnership between Dwayne Bravo and Ramdin after Andre Fletcher had pulled his hamstring and left the field. But Nabi came for his second spell, caught Bravo plumb in front and made the game wide open.
READ: Afghanistan can do much better against bigger nations
West Indies started to lose momentum following the dismissal but with 35 runs to get from the last four overs, they were favourites to clinch it. Also, two big hitters, Darren Sammy and Andre Russell, were at the crease.
The former had been hit on the hip by a Hamid Hassan beamer in the 17th over and as it was the Afghanistan fast bowler’s second such transgression, he couldn’t bowl again.
Advantage West Indies, but medium pacer Gulbadin Naib bowled two consecutive dot balls to end the over, coming in as Hassan’s replacement. Naib accounted for Sammy in his next over to raise Afghanistan’s hopes – a wicket which came on the heels of Russell’s run out caused due to a horrible mix-up. But young, enterprising and big-hitting Carlos Brathwaite was there and he took two sixes off Naib to tilt the balance in favour of his team again.
Nabi started the final over with a low full-toss from around the wicket. Braithwaite swung and missed. Same thing happened in the next delivery and the West Indies batsman was under serious pressure.
Nabi stuck to his low full-tosses, Braithwaite attempted a mighty heave but could only manage a top edge. The ball went high and wide towards deep mid-wicket, where Najibullah Zadran took a stunning catch, hurting himself in the process. Who cared! His side had the sweet taste of success.
Earlier, Afghanistan innings stuttered after they were asked to bat first. Shahzad was going well but Samuel Badree deceived him with flight. The leg-spinner was his team’s star performer with the ball, returning with 3/14 in four overs. Left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn complemented him well, conceding 18 runs in his four overs for a wicket.
Afghanistan lost wickets at regular intervals and at 56 for 5, they were in deep trouble. But Zadran was fearless.
He was cheeky to scoop a Russell delivery to the fine leg boundary, courageous to charge down the track and lift Sammy over the straight fence, a tad lucky to tickle a Bravo away-goer to the fine third man boundary and audacious to switch-hit the same bowler for another four. Zadran’s resolve was the reason why Afghanistan reached respectability. He missed his second T20 international fifty (48 not out) but played a match-winning hand and was rightly adjudged the Man of the Match.
For West Indies, they have to regroup fast to be on top of their game in the semi-final. Gayle’s return should come in handy.