Openers Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul put on 140-run stand to power India to 210-2 as Virat Kohli’s men beat Afghanistan by 66 runs for their first win in 2021 T20 World Cup
India opener Rohit Sharma en route his 74 v Afghanistan Pic/AFP; (right) India’s KL Rahul celebrates his half-century against Afghanistan
India finally got their act together as a change in venue after all did make a difference to their fortunes in the T20 World Cup. After disastrous performances in their two matches in Dubai, India got their mojo working in Abu Dhabi as their openers Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul did what they were supposed to do from Game 1.
Uphill task for Afghanistan
Their 140-run stand ensured India became the first team to breach the 200-mark in this tournament. A target of 211 was always going to an uphill task for the Afghan batsmen and so it proved as they lost by 66 runs.
India not only recorded their first win in the third game, but also significantly improved their net run-rate from -1.6 to 0.073. Now, they have two easier matches against Scotland and Namibia, both in Dubai over the next five days. And to keep up their end of the challenge, they have to not only to win those games, but win by huge margins to improve their net run-rate further and then hope for Afghanistan to upset New Zealand to have any chance, however bleak, of making it to the semi-finals. The Indian bowling attack looked sharp with the return of off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. Playing his first white-ball game for India after four years and four months, he made an impressive return, claiming two wickets for just 14 runs. His spin partner Ravindra Jadeja too bowled well and finally managed to pick up a wicket. With pacers too, including Mohammed Shami, keeping it tight, it ensured India did not allow the effort of their batsmen to go waste.
For once, losing the toss became a blessing for India as their batsmen got the opportunity to bat against a none-too-impressive Afghanistan bowling attack. The injury to spinner Mujeeb-ur-Rahman who had bowled well in previous matches made a big dent in Afghanistan arsenal and for a change even leg-spinner Rashid Khan was not at his best. Rohit and Rahul feasted as Afghanistan opened the attack with spinners Mohammed Nabi and Sharafuddin Ashraf. And when the pacers came on they were treated with equal disdain. It was heartening to see the Indian openers back at their fluent best and a goodly Indian crowd at the Zayed Stadium had finally something to cheer about.
Pant, Pandya shine
Rohit looked in pristine form and seemed on way to this fifth T20I century, but he holed out off Karim Janat for 74 off just 47 balls. Rahul also departed after compiling 69, leaving the stage for Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya to ensure India did not lose the momentum and with some daring strokeplay, put the issue beyond Afghanistan.
India 210-2 (R Sharma 74, KL Rahul 69, H Pandya 35*) beat Afghanistan 144-7 (K Janat 42*, M Nabi 35; M Shami 3-32, R Ashwin 2-14) by 66 runs