Afghanistan nearly pulled of an incredible 2019 World Cup win before some incredible death bowling by Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami helped seal a tense 11-run victory for India in Southampton on Saturday.
India batted first but found the going incredibly tough on a slow pitch and outstanding bowling from Afghanistan spinners saw Virat Kohli team crawl to 224-8.
Captain Kohli was the sole exception as he looked in complete control during his 63-ball 67 but every other batsman struggled for timing and placement as India failed to score more than 50 runs in any 10-over block.
Mystery spinner Mujeeb ur Rahman was the star of the show with the ball, giving away just 26 runs while star leg-spinner Rashid Khan bounced back after a record thrashing by England with superb figures of 1-38 against the Indians.
In reply, Afghanistan tried to keep up with the scoring rate even as India’s bowlers maintained a tight line. However, a double wicket maiden in the 29th over by Jasprit Bumrah opened the game up as Afghanistan were reduced to 106-4.
However, all-rounder Mohammed Nabi wasn’t done as he followed a brilliant day with the ball (2-33) with an excellent 52 from 55 balls to take the match right to the final over.
However, with 16 runs needed for win, it was a bridge too far as Shami bowled a sensational final over and once Nabi was caught at long-on, Shami (4-40) completed a hat-trick by nailing the yorkers to rattle the stumps of the tailenders.
It was only the second World Cup hat-trick by an Indian bowler after Chetan Sharma.
Tricky pitches reduce gap between teams
As was the case in the Sri Lanka-England game in Headingley on Friday, a tricky pitch reduced the gap between the teams drastically on Saturday.
The surface offered no pace while the ball gripped and had a tennis ball bounce. All batsmen struggled to get the ball off the surface as Afghanistan’s four-pronged spin attack had the Indian batsmen at their mercy.
Even in the death overs, India simply could not send the spinners to the boundary as 34 overs of spin went for just 119 runs for five wickets.
Shami will take the headlines for the hat-trick, but it was the penultimate over from Bumrah - in which he conceded just five - that gave Afghanistan too much to do. Exceptional death bowling, only missing his yorker once. #CWC19 #IndvAfg pic.twitter.com/myGITfeiMP— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) June 22, 2019
On a pitch where it was the slower bowlers who got maximum purchase, Bumrah was operating on different level. Going short and testing the middle of a slow pitch, Bumrah burst the game open with a double wicket maiden just as Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi were taking the Afghans closer to the total.
That 29th over helped India pull things back and brought in two new batsman to the crease. Then, as he was brought back in the death, Bumrah gave away just five runs in the 49th over to change the equation from 21 off 12 to 16 off six.
2 – Shami became just the second Indian bowler to pick up a World Cup hat-trick. Also, it extends India’s unbeaten run in this World Cup and takes their incredible record going back to the 2011 World Cup to just two defeats across three World Cups.
Jos Buttler has warned England’s batsmen cannot afford to repeat the timid performance that saw them crash to a surprise World Cup defeat against Sri Lanka.
A heavily stacked batting line-up came undone in the face of a modest chase at Headingley, bowled out for 212 as the underdogs landed a stirring 20-run win.
England have made a habit of reeling in far bigger totals in recent years and have already flexed their muscles with four scores north of 300 in the previous five games.
The only time they did not reach that landmark was against the West Indies, when they romped to their target of 213 in less than 34 overs.
The house came crashing down in Leeds, though, Joe Root’s battling 57 and Ben Stokes’ undefeated 82 the only real innings of substance in an unusually stodgy outing.
“I think we lacked energy with the bat. I think we were a little bit passive as a group, which is what we haven’t been for a long time with the bat,” said Buttler, who made just 10 before becoming the last of four wickets for veteran paceman Lasith Malinga.
“That is the most frustrating thing, to lose that intensity. That doesn’t just mean hitting fours and sixes, that means showing intensity and trying to put pressure back on the bowlers.
“It’s more about strike rotation and showing that energy. As a mindset, we weren’t at our best.”
Buttler understands that England will need to be right back up to speed for their next game, against rivals Australia at the home of cricket. Anything less would risk a third loss and leave the hosts vulnerable to an early exit.
“That game will bring lots of intensity – England-Australia games are always big games and it’s at a fantastic ground at Lord’s,” he said.
“This result will hurt for a few days but we’ll get ready for the next game.”
Whether dynamic opener Jason Roy is back to bolster the batting order remains to be seen. He has missed the last two fixtures with a torn hamstring and has yet to return to training.
His deputy, James Vince, has proved a downgrade thus far and a return to fitness for the Surrey man is fast becoming a priority.
“As a group we didn’t have that intensity and obviously Jason is a guy who naturally does that,” admitted Buttler.
“But it’s not just him, we can all do that from one to 11 so, as a side, that is the most disappointing thing – that we have played in a certain way for a long period of time and we went away from that.”
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Successive defeats to Australia and India have left Pakistan in danger of missing out on the semi-finals, with their only victory so far coming against England at Trent Bridge.
However, Wahab thinks his team perform better when the pressure is on and the 33-year-old is backing Pakistan to lift themselves ahead of their remaining matches in the group stage.
“We have to lift ourselves. We are each other’s strength,” Riaz told cricketworldcup.com.
“We are all good friends and know that only 15 of us can lift the team which not even our family members can do. Pakistan play better under pressure and we will qualify for the finals and semi-finals.
“Our focus is on beating South Africa, and we know we shouldn’t get ahead or think about the future. We need to go one by one by what to do every day.
“On what we do in the now and not what is happening elsewhere. We shouldn’t be thinking about the future.”
Riaz thinks that how the two sides handle the pressure at Lord’s on Sunday will be key.
He said: “Execution of skills is everything. They (South Africa) have failed in that aspect as well like we did, we had matches we could have won.
“In this match it depends on who handles pressure better and plays better. They will win.”
South Africa’s World Cup hopes were all-but extinguished due to the drama that unfolded at Edgbaston this week as the Proteas lost narrowly to New Zealand.
Coach Ottis Gibson acknowledges his team can do better and he hopes they can demonstrate that in their remaining matches.
“We’ve still got three games to play and I’d like to think that we can at least play the way we know we can play,” said Gibson.
“We haven’t played like that, for whatever reason, but I’d like to think we can still do that.
“The thing about the squad is that there are guys playing their last World Cup and I’d like to think that they will leave the world stage having signed off on a strong note.”