The World Cup appears to have turned to the comparatively small total after high-scoring ventures and the attendant nervous chase when the palms turn sweaty and the throats are parched. The trend was obvious here on Saturday at a sun-bathed Hampshire Bowl. India scored 224 for eight on a sluggish surface and bowled Afghanistan in 49.5 overs for 213.
Afghanistan required a decent start, but openers Hazratullah Zazai and Gulbadin Naib were in a hurry and the former lost his timber after doing an across-the-line hoick against Mohammed Shami, who substituted the injured Indian player Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Meanwhile, Naib, who constantly clattered Hardik Pandya to the mid-wicket fence, miscued an Indian all-rounder pull off, and Vijay Shankar waited for eternity and caught well.
Afghanistan was 64 for two, and as Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi showed certainty, hope floated shortly. Just as the Indian fans became anxious, in an eventful 29th over, Jasprit Bumrah inflicted a twin-blow. Shah survived a huge shout for LBW but top-edged a pull off India’s spearhead. As soon as Shahidi dropped, a leading edge popped back to the bowler.
Kohli chose to bat earlier on winning the toss and it was up to him and Kedar Jadhav to keep the innings together while the competing spinners spun an adhesive web. As off-spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman wheeled in the first over, the openers Rohit Sharma and K.L Rahul had to deal with the slow art. Rohit played inside the line to a carrom ball from Mujeeb and was castled in the fifth over.
From the 20th over, Naib pressed Rashid Khan into service and Kohli drilled the first delivery of the leg-spinner for four past cover. Shankar too dished the lofted shot, but in reviews, he found a mixed bag. An appeal to LBW that was upheld was overturned, but there was no respite when another struck Shankar’s pad.
Kohli continued unhindered, but his upper cut off Nabi proved fatal against the run of play. It was left to Dhoni and Jadhav to revive India from 135 for four and the two preferred patience, but they were not sporadically averse to using the long handle.
Still, while the 57-run fifth-wicket partnership developed, the run-rate remained below five. Dhoni got stumped off Rashid in the slog, but Pandya failed, but Jadhav, who once fled being run-out, stayed in until he succeeded in the last over. By then, India had gathered nearly enough to remain alive in a humdinger.