Recent Match Report – India vs Afghanistan 3rd T20I 2023/24

India 212 for 4 (Rohit 121*, Rinku 69*, Fareed 3-20) beat Afghanistan 212 for 6 (Naib 55*, Gurbaz 50, Washington 3-18) via Super Over

Rohit Sharma became the first man to five T20I hundreds, as he took India from 22 for 4 to 212 for 4 through their highest partnership in T20Is, with Rinku Singh. It was not enough. He came out again to hit two sixes in the first Super Over, and then seemingly retired himself out to get a better runner at the non-striker’s end. Still not enough. He had to – and was allowed to – come back again and hit a six in the second Super Over too.

This time, the valiant Afghans ran out of gas, hitting two short-of-a-length legbreaks straight to long-off to end a dramatic night still without an international win against India despite their highest score when chasing, despite stunning batting from Gulbadin Naib and Mohammad Nabi, and despite a great start with the ball in regulation time.

Don’t let them tell you it was just a dead rubber of a bilateral series. Things happened that you don’t often see. Nabi and Rahmanullah Gurbaz ran overthrows off the body on the last ball of the first Super Over, leaving Virat Kohli incensed and clapping in Nabi’s face.

Minutes later, with two required off the last ball, Rohit, the non-striker, walked off to allow Rinku to take up the running duties. But Yashasvi Jaiswal’s bottom edge went only as far as the wicketkeeper, and the second tie necessitated another Super Over. Within one ball, Rohit was ready to bat again, which, under point 22 of Appendix F of the playing conditions, should have only be allowed if Rohit had earlier retired with an injury or illness or “any other unavoidable cause”.

India were now batting first. So one ball later, Rohit smoked Fareed Ahmad, India’s tormentor with the new ball in regulation time, for a six and a four. If Rohit did indeed get away with one there, he would probably think he was owed one after a clearly high full toss earlier wasn’t called a no-ball. Or after the umpire kept him waiting on 0, following his two ducks earlier, by calling leg byes when he had hit the leather off a ball on a leg glance. The match, though, twisted more as Fareed got Rinku out on review and then Rohit ran himself out trying to steal a bye.

Avesh Khan, who had gone for 55 in the main match, and Ravi Bishnoi, who had conceded 38, then warmed up throwing one ball at each other. When India saw two right-hand batters come out, they went to Bishnoi’s legspin, who didn’t repeat the earlier mistake of bowling too quick. He kept it slow and back of a length, and Nabi and Gurbaz just couldn’t impart enough power in their attempts to hit sixes.

Nabi, especially, had batted like a dream during his brief stay in the main match. He hit three sixes in the 16 balls he faced to give a fledgling chase the kickstart it needed. In overs 15 and 16, he scored 31 of the 34 runs, as the spinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Bishnoi, went flatter and quicker when under the pump.

Washington Sundar then did the opposite. He bowled slow and away from the batters’ reach. It is like going against every natural instinct when you are under fire. He reaped rewards for it when he bowled the 17th over without a boundary, and also had Nabi caught at deep cover.

Then Karim Janat, who had conceded 36 in the last over of India’s innings, got out immediately. The Afghan worm was still higher than India’s, but they needed 44 off 14. That’s how brutal the last few overs with the ball had been for Afghanistan. Now was when Naib found pace on the ball, and nearly ran away with the match with some sensational hits. The last of his sixes brought it down to five required off the last two.

Mukesh Kumar, who would bowl straight yorkers successfully in the first Super Over, kept going for wide ones in the 20th over of Afghanistan’s innings, but got away with two hittable balls in the end. A weak throw from Rinku allowed Naib to come back for the second to level the scores.

Not that the straight yorker is the only unequivocal option. Afghanistan bowlers tried a few of those and went for 103 in the last five overs, the highest in a T20I outside one Nepal vs Mongolia match. However, even that game was no match for the 58 India took in the last two overs.

As it turned out, India needed every last one of those runs after the start they had had. On a pitch that started off tacky, Fareed and Azmatullah Omarzai made full use of the variable pace and movement out of the surface. Amid frequent miscues, India’s intent remained aggressive. Jaiswal skied towards deep midwicket trying to go over long-on, and Kohli and Sanju Samson bagged golden ducks trying to attack short-of-a-length balls. Omarzai got the better of Shivam Dube with three inswingers followed by one that nipped away.

After the new-ball bowlers did through the powerplay, legspinner Qais Ahmad extracted grip and turn from the same surface later. He even extracted an lbw decision against Rinku, but on review, UltraEdge recorded a faint inside edge that naked eye missed even on slow-motion replays. Had Rinku not got it overturned, it would have left India at 49 for 5 in the ninth over.

What followed might tempt some to use as vindication for the conventional method of a slow start – Rohit reached a run a ball only in the 12th over, and then followed an explosive acceleration as he smashed 93 off the last 35 balls he faced – but it wasn’t like Rohit had dropped anchor. He had tried all kinds of shots, including five reverse sweeps, which is four more than he has ever tried in a T20 innings. His first reverse-swept six in T20 cricket took him to 40 off 36, the first time his runs outnumbered the balls faced.

Once he found that six, Rohit broke free. He began taking liberties, starting out by targeting the debutant Mohammad Saleem. He just began to shuffle to off to target the leg side. If the ball happened to be in the slot, he went over midwicket or down the ground; if not, he manipulated the field.

It was vintage Rohit with a little help from his friend Rinku. Rohit dominated the first part of the slog overs, managing to nudge good balls into gaps for fours, and monstering errors in length. And once your good balls are nurdled for fours, those errors tend to increase. Rinku ended the innings with three consecutive sixes to give Rohit’s innings just the impetus it needed, but little would Rohit have known that he would need to play two more pretty special knocks in the night just to win this match.

Sidharth Monga is a senior writer at ESPNcricinfo

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