By Anand Vasu, Delhi
There were dreams in the air, Afghan flags flying in the stands and drums building an atmosphere of anticipation, but England prevailed at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi on a warm Wednesday (March 23) afternoon. Afghanistan took a hard stab at knocking over a Test team – its stated ambition – but was outgunned by an England team that batted deep and bowled well enough to secure a 15-run win.
Eoin Morgan called correctly at the toss and chose to bat, not quite knowing how a greenish pitch that had a reputation for being low and slow would play. For the best part of the 20 overs that followed, it was Afghanistan who had the better measure of the conditions.
Amir Hamza opened the bowling with his left-arm spin, varying pace beautifully and using the width of the crease to force batsmen into shots that failed to pierce the infield. There was a sense of frustration building and Jason Roy ran down the pitch and missed a dart to have his stumps disturbed.
Morgan and James Vince then calmed the nerves, pushing England to 41 for 1 with one Power Play over to go. Mohammad Nabi, the offspinner with no doosra or slider, no floater or zooter, oozed class and common sense, and gently but surely pulled the rug from under England’s feet.
Off the third ball of the sixth over, Vince (22) drove straight back to Nabi. Off the next ball, Morgan shouldered arms to one that came in with the angle, leaving Ben Stokes to face the hat-trick ball. When rapped on the pad, Stokes suddenly found himself surrounded by Afghans appealing frantically, but the umpire’s finger stayed down, and rightly so. But, the Afghans weren’t done yet. The final ball of the sixth over brought a third wicket, Joe Root being sent back by Stokes only to watch Nabi pull off a frenzied stumping.
At 42 for 4, England was in danger, and Jos Buttler didn’t help the cause. He drove uppishly to extra cover, giving Nabi another chance to get into the game, this time with a full-length dive that resulted in a spectacular catch.
England’s 50 for 5 then became 57 for 6 as Stokes attempted a massive heave off a brisk legbreak from Rashid Khan and dragged the ball back into his stumps. Afghanistan was running on pure adrenaline by this time and the fall of Chris Jordan in the 15th over with only 85 on the board gave fresh voice to the vociferously pro-Afghanistan crowd.
Moeen Ali and David Willey then brought a hush over the Kotla, cutting loose against an Afghanistan attack that probably believed the job was done. Moeen carved, sliced, chipped and drove his way to 33-ball 41 while Willey was more muscular, making 20 from 17 in a 57-run partnership that lifted England to 142. England managed 44 runs from its last three overs, and in the end that made all the difference.
The pressure was suddenly back on Afghanistan when the chase began and any serious attempt to knock England over needed Mohammad Shahzad to fire at the top, not merely for the sake of quick runs, but to give his team the belief that it could go all the way. Willey shaped the ball perfectly back into Shahzad, trapping him in front with the third ball of the innings, deflating Afghanistan.
Two further quick wickets meant that Afghanistan could do very little with the Power Play, allowing England to control the tempo of the game from there on. Chipping away, England reduced Afghanistan to 39 for 5.
Afghanistan did not give up hope, and went down swinging. Despite the fact that no batsman was able to impose himself on the game, Afghanistan entered the final over with a sniff, 24 needed with Shafiqullah throwing his bat at everything. The first ball was slashed past the wicketkeeper for four, but two runless balls that followed ensured that England had the game in the bag. Shafiqullah’s 35*, however, had pushed Afghanistan to 127 for 9, reducing the margin of defeat to 15 runs. (Cricinfo)