T20 World Cup 2021: Indian stars finally shine in clinical win over Afghanistan, but more help is required – Firstcricket News, Firstpost

There was a sense of relief with which India’s cricket team – and the entire ecosystem around it – would have tucked in to bed on Wednesday night after it earned a comprehensive victory over Afghanistan in the ICC Men’s Twenty20 World Cup Group 1 league match in Abu Dhabi. Finally, the Indian team, as we know it, turned up at the park to deliver an all-round show.

That it could come up with a pleasing effort when staring down the barrel of the gun would have soothed some minds tormented by its lackadaisical form in the first two games of the tournament. The dismal and disappointing performances in those matches led to much angst and upheaval. It was important for the squad to be not sinking in the quicksand further.

There were a couple of things India needed to do if it were not to go down the road that Bangladesh has taken in the Super 12. First and foremost, while it was aware that the losses to Pakistan and New Zealand came as a huge setback to its plans in the Twenty20 World Cup, it had to not let those become baggage in the team’s collective mindset. It did that with aplomb.

India took their Net Run Rate to the positive zone after beating Afghanistan by 66 runs. AP Photo

Its batsmen had to bridge the gap between their proven potential and performance by playing in accordance with the prevalent conditions. The quartet that walked out to the middle, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya, expressed itself freely and helped India make the biggest score of the tournament.

Above all, the situation called for India to cast aside any fears of an early exit from the tournament, a backlash from intensely passionate fans and scathing criticism by former cricketers and focus on the game on hand. To its credit, the team delivered an object lesson in the art of keeping the mind in the present.

India’s survival instincts kicked in beautifully, bringing along all the qualities needed to produce a command performance under pressure. While there was courage and perseverance in evidence, it was discipline that came through as the single biggest characteristic that marked the team on Wednesday night.

The simplicity with which the batsmen posted the large total was remarkable. There were no signs of desperation. Nor were there any of forced creativity, except when Pandya flicked a yorker length delivery to the long leg fence. Clean cricketing shots were the order of the day and that was not only refreshing but also calming nerves beyond the dug-out.

It must be said that India received some unexpected aid from Afghanistan to keep its interest in the tournament alive. To begin with, Mohammed Nabi presented India’s batsmen first use of the flat Abu Dhabi pitch upon winning the toss. Then he opted for spin at both ends with the new ball. India was not going to look at the gift horse in its mouth.

Virat Kohli’s decision to hold himself back and send in the power hitters Pant and Pandya at Rohit and Rahul’s fall was on expected lines. Happily, for India, it produced the desired results as well with a 63-run stand in three overs and a half, reminding the fans of fireworks usually seen in IPL matches but fizzling in India’s campaign thus far.

However, India will be disappointed that it did not close out victory with a larger margin after having reduced Afghanistan to 67 for five in 12 overs. India finished with a 66-run win that moved its net run rate to the positive zone but in letting Afghanistan scamper to 144 for seven in 20 overs, it may not have done itself any favours.

Of particular concern will be the fact that Karim Janat and Mohammed Nabi plundered 46 runs in the final four overs. India will not want to be left wishing that these overs had panned out better if and when the calculators are brought out for the one last time on 8 November. It may well have been the perfect game for India had these four overs panned out better.

Be that as it may, India can draw some satisfaction from the show of control by the bowlers in shackling Afghanistan’s stroke players. Superbly as Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah bowled with the new ball, India had reason to be delighted with the remarkable bowling by R Ashwin, who was finally trusted to play a white-ball international after the longest gap.

Ashwin’s return from the ranks of the reserves was perhaps forced on the side by Varun Chakravarthy being unfit for the game. It came along on a day when sanity was restored in the batting approach. Both allow the lingering of the question if these decisions could not have come a couple of games earlier and possibly benefit the Indian side a bit more.

For, India will now want another dollop of aid from Afghanistan. It needs its fellow-Asian team to stun New Zealand in its last Group 1 game on 7 November. That verdict can force a triple tie and bring mathematics into play. It is not going to be easy, except in the fantasy world, but it serves to keep India’s interest going till 8 November when it meets Namibia.

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