| Yuvraj Singh successfully appeals for a leg-before decision against Afghanistan captain Nawroz Mangal, in Colombo, on Wednesday. Non-striker Karim Sadiq is in the frame. (AFP)
Colombo: Usually, assassinations, terror strikes and beheadings bring Afghanistan into the headlines. But the country also plays a spirited brand of cricket, which was on display at the R.Premadasa Stadium on Wednesday night.
The Afghans aren’t short on boldness either: Captain Nawroz Mangal inserted India, opting to chase.
Actually, Afghanistan got to their first 50 more than an over quicker than India, but once the momentum took a hit with the dismissal of Mangal, the match began going the way of the much more experienced team.
Mohammed Nabi (31 off 17 deliveries) did raise visions of a massive upset, but his exit left the last three with plenty to do.
Still, chasing 160, Afghanistan managed a plucky 136 before being bowled out in the last over. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s worst fears almost came true, for he’d been praying that his team doesn’t slip on a “banana skin.”
The India captain acknowledged that his men weren’t “up to the mark.”
While India launched their World Twenty20 campaign with a win, there are issues which need to be addressed.
For one, openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir need to get their act right. And, then, the bowling combination has to be revisited.
That part-timer Yuvraj Singh picked up three for 24 prevented a down-to-the-wire finish. But what about a couple of the specialists?
It’s not that everything is smooth on the batting front.
Had Suresh Raina (38) not been dropped twice, it’s debatable whether India would have totalled 159 for five, an effort largely driven by MoM Virat Kohli’s 50. Even he was dropped once.
“Kohli’s such a good batsman... He’s a find,” had been former England captain Graham Gooch’s observation during a brief chat with The Telegraph earlier in the day.
Any team would love to have Kohli.
“We made mistakes in the field, dropped catches... That cost us runs... While batting, too, there were stages when we were in the game and the target was achievable...
“Overall, we were impressive compared to 2010, but could have done better... We need more exposure against the big teams,” was Afghanistan coach Kabir Khan’s assessment of the match.
Khan credited the players’ “unity” for Afghanistan’s achievements in the last couple of years. “The war, the camps... They’ve brought the players together.”
The Afghan cricket story is incredible.
Kohli, who has been having a most enviable run since the second innings of the Perth Test in January, made the point that Afghanistan “had nothing to lose.” Also, that the Mangals were out to “express themselves.”
In other words, a very potent combination.
Of his own form, Kohli said: “I don’t think much about what has happened and I take it one at a time. The way I see it, my contributions should help the team win.”
He added that one had to “stay calm in tricky situations.”
Kohli accepted that the bowling needed to be better and that India ought to have won by a bigger margin. “I’m sure the bowlers are going to come out aggressive against England (on Sunday),” he signed off.