AT SOME point during AB de Villiers’ assault in the 17th over, you wonder whether the Afghanistan team could actually divorce their obvious disillusionment from the inevitable awe at what they were witnessing. They had seen him do it over and over again before and watched in absolute amazement. That was on television. This time the carnage was happening live, and they were at the receiving end of it. Surely, Rashid Khan wasn’t enjoying it.
The 17-year-old leggie had till then impressed in his first three overs. Not only had he conceded just 22 runs, he had also shown enough courage to give the ball air and test the South African batsmen. Rashid had also played a crucial role in Afghanistan somehow putting the brakes on the Proteas. That is before de Villiers decided it’s time to put things in order. And then of course there was mayhem.
Rashid was smashed for four sixes, and a four, with the over eventually going for 29 runs. The first ball was short and AB sent it over the deep mid wicket boundary for six. The next ball too was short and AB tried to repeat the dose and it was a misfield that gave him a boundary. The next two were launched over the straight field, one landing in the dressing-room and the other heading towards the hockey stadium in the background. The last six landed in the grand-stand, as Rashid landed one right under the right-hander’s bat. The de Villiers onslaught, 64 off 29, ensured that South Africa had gotten the late surge to take their score to 209, a score that many expected them to surpass rather easily.
It was also an onslaught that most Associate teams don’t recover from. But there’s where Afghanistan showed why they are the best among the rest, producing an outstanding response that for a while threatened to send some shivers to the South African camp. Led by opener Mohammed Shehzad’s 19-ball 44, Afghanistan actually were scoring at over 10-an-over in their first 10 overs and they looked on target to become the second team in three days to achieve a 200+ run-chase against South Africa. But a bunch of wickets in the middle overs created the expected panic, ensuring that they lost their way to be bowled out for 172, the highest score by an Associate team against a top-eight nation. And it’s more a testament to their burgeoning quality that the eventual margin of defeat was just 37 runs.
The nature of the Wankhede pitch was well-known by now, with its assistance for batsmen well publicized already thanks to the high number of runs seen here already. And it was no surprise that South Africa opted to bat first after Faf du Plessis won the toss. The start was rather customary with the Proteas at Wankhede with Quinton de Kock taking charge of the initial burst. As always he started with a flurry of boundaries all around the wicket and a couple of sixes. Hashim Amla fell early but skipper du Plessis played his part too in their partnership of 65 for the second wicket.
They then fell in the space of two overs to bring de Villiers to the crease. At the end of the 10th over South Africa were 92/2, and the Afghans had started clawing their way back into the contest thanks to their spinners. They had a chance to get rid of AB early but Samiullah Shenwari couldn’t hold on to a tough return-catch chance as the ball kissed his palm and hit the floor. He was only on 27 then and he made them pay for that slip, starting with a sweep for six off Mohammad Nabi in the very next over. David Miller and JP Duminy managed to get two sixes and a four in the final over, which gave South Africa 20 runs in all.
While the Wankhede is used to seeing AB set the stage ablaze, it had only heard of Shahzad’s ability to set a rollicking pace with the bat. On Sunday, they got to see it for themselves. They didn’t have to wait as the portly right-hander slammed a four and a six of Kagiso Rabada in the first over itself. He repeated the feat in Rabada’s next over. And he kept going. Shahzad was gone before the end of the fifth over but his stunning knock had given the Afghans hope.
But despite keeping the momentum up for the first half of their innings, the South Africans kept themselves ahead of the game with regular wickets as Chris Morris finished with four victims to give his team their first victory in the tournament.
Brief scores: South Africa 209 for 5 (De Villiers 64, De Kock 45, Hamza 1-25) beat Afghanistan 172 (Shahzad 44, Morris 4-27) by 37 runs.