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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Crossed fingers don’t work, Afghanistan lose, India out of T20 World Cup

Chasing 125 for victory, New Zealand were never under any pressure to go after Rashid. Afghanistan batsmen, on the other hand, looked clueless against Trent Boult’s pace and swing.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Abu Dhabi |
Updated: November 8, 2021 8:30:29 am
T20 World Cup CricketAfghanistan's Gulbadin Naib, centre, reacts after he was dismissed by New Zealand's Ish Sodhi during the T20 World Cup. (AP Photo)

Midway into the Afghanistan innings, a Ravichandran Ashwin post popped up on Twitter. Three crossed fingers emojis spoke a thousand words. One of the most cerebral and articulate cricketers in the Indian team was hoping against hope. Afghanistan were reeling against New Zealand after losing three wickets in the Powerplay. The Afghanistan win, that would keep India’s World T20 chances alive, looked unlikely.

The lead-up of the crucial New Zealand – Afghanistan game that has India’s fate embedded into it had a meme fest on social media. On the ground, the reality was different. The possibility of New Zealand going down to Afghanistan was sort of never taken seriously by anybody associated with the game, including the Indian camp.

It had a precursor in Ravindra Jadeja’s post-match comment after India’s win against Scotland. “Bags pack karke ghar jayenge, aur kya (We will pack our bags and go home),” was the allrounder’s reply when he was asked what if Afghanistan failed to beat New Zealand. That’s what they exactly have to do in a couple of days.

Chasing 125 for victory, New Zealand were never under any pressure to go after Rashid. Afghanistan batsmen, on the other hand, looked clueless against Trent Boult’s pace and swing. New Zealand’s fielding gave goosebumps. There was a gulf in class and New Zealand’s eight-wicket win captured that.

Kane Williamson and his men have been excellent in this tournament. They ran Pakistan very close and lost the game practically in one Tim Southee leaky over. They hammered India. The atmosphere in the Kiwi camp throughout this game was relaxed. Their coaching staff was chatting with the reserve players. Jimmy Neesham was having a smile in the dug-out.

New Zealand’s captain Kane Williamson reacts during the T20 World Cup match between New Zealand and Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi. (AP)

India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun, at pre-match press conference on Sunday, ahead of the team’s final game against Namibia, didn’t sound too positive. “We are backing Afghanistan to do well in this tournament. But again, in sport, sport is all about ups and downs, and you need to accept and move on. You need to give out your best at any point in time. It was the entire team and they were to do well in the series but that was not so,” said Arun.

He refused to offer any excuse, but the toss comment sounded like a bitter pill. “I’m not trying to give any excuses, but I think the toss plays a very vital role in a match like this (T20 cricket), the toss shouldn’t be of any consequence,” he said, adding: “But here the toss gives a very undue advantage. And that’s the reason why it’s a huge change between batting in the first innings and batting in the second innings. That shouldn’t be the case in a very short format like this.”

Save an upset, Afghanistan barely had a chance against the 2019 World Cup finalists and the current World Test champions. Away from social media, the Indian expats in Abu Dhabi knew that as well. Their apparent indifference to the game attested that. The sparsely populated stands were mainly occupied by Afghanistan fans, while Devon Conway’s parents provided the Kiwi support. Indian fans were conspicuous by their absence.

The keyboard warriors placed their faith in Rashid Khan, thanks to the leg-spinner’s IPL exploits. The reality is that Rashid becomes a wicket-taking option when he is backed by a steep asking-rate and the batsmen trying to force the pace. Revisiting to Rashid’s debut Test against India in Bangalore three years ago would help put things in perspective, where the leggie conceded 154 runs in 34.5 overs for two wickets.

Arun felt that a break between the IPL and the T20 World Cup would have served well to a team that is on the road for six months now. “Again, definitely being on the road for six months is a huge ask. I think the players haven’t gone home ever since they had a short break after the last IPL and they are in a bubble for the last six months. And I think that takes a huge toll. Maybe, a short break between the IPL and the World Cup would have done a lot of good for these boys.”

Hindsight came to the fore. A few hours later, India’s fate in the World Cup was sealed, an inglorious group stage exit.

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