India toil for opening win

Shapoor sent down a terrifying opening spell, taking out openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir cheaply, before Virat Kohli (50) and Suresh Raina (38) capitalised on dropped catches and 16 extras to help India to 159-5.

After looking India in the eye for over three-quarters of the match, Afghanistan caved in under the pressure of a mounting required rate, finishing their chase on 136 in 19.3 overs when L. Balaji shot out their last two batsmen in successive balls.

Balaji finished with 3-19, but it was Yuvraj Singh‘s 3-24 that got the ball spinning for India. Yuvraj bowled economically and accurately, and although he had his figures spoiled in his last over, his double strike in the 12th over was what deflated the chase.

Wicket-keeper batsman Mohammad Shahzad, a self-confessed fan and practioner of MS Dhoni’s helicopter shot, launched the counter, swinging after everything in an entertaining 18, before top-edging L. Balaji to Yuvraj at mid-on. Afghanistan were 42-1 at the end of the Powerplay. Skipper Nawroz Mangal (22), who had opted to field keeping in mind what he considered his team’s strength – batting, massacred a massive swept six off Balaji, but was trapped in front against Yuvraj, who was brought on in the eighth over.

R. Ashwin was introduced and spanked over his head for four by Karim Sadiq (26). In the next over, Sadiq slapped Yuvraj past point for another boundary, keeping the required rate in check. Afghanistan needed 91 needed off last ten when Dhoni missed a stumping chance of Sadiq off Ashwin. 

But then Afghanistan imploded as three wickets fell for the addition of one run. Sadiq was unable to make good his reprieve. He tried hefting Yuvraj over the deep mid-wicket boundary and was held by Gautam Gambhir.

Yuvraj struck again on the next ball – his third wicket – with one that drifted in and spun away from Asghar Stanikzai; the batsman feathered it to Dhoni. Samiullah Shenwari then lobbed a return catch to Ashwin as Afghanistan plummeted to 76-5. With the asking rate well over 11, India’s bowling did not have to do anything special to see the team home. 

There was another minor twist though. The no.5 Mohammad Nabi (31, 17b) carted sixes off Ashwin and Zaheer Khan, who had returned for the 16th over, bringing his team back into the equation with 44 needed off the last four.  But Ashwin, harnessing the pause in delivery to disturbingly good effect, snared Nabi in the 17th over, the batsman charging down and edging to Rohit Sharma at mid-off. 

Earlier, Afghanistan spilled at least four catches and conceded 16 extras to help India on their way. India were sent in and Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir lived dangerously against Shapoor, who bowled three overs in a fiery opening spell. One delivery skidded on to Sehwag and was clocked 150.3 by the speed gun. That might have been an exaggeration, an aberration of technology, but it did not take a gadget to gauge just how well Shapoor was bowling. 

Shapoor accounted for both openers. Gambhir played on and soon after Sehwag was done in outside the off stump, the edge travelling fast and sure to the ‘keeper. Yuvraj looked good in the middle, stroking a clean straight six in his 17 before he was dropped by Nabi off his own bowling on 17. One run later, Yuvraj was out for good, slicing offie Karim Sadiq into short third man’s hands.

Nabi then dropped the new man SUresh Raina, again off his own bowling, when the leftie had made 2. Another reprieve followed as Kohli’s catch was fluffed by Sami at long on off Sadiq, when the batsman had made 33. What was worse Sami managed to push the ball over the boundary, conceding a six. The two dropped batsmen went on to add a total of 53 to their respective scores. 

Meanwhile, Shahzad walked off the pitch due to a recurring knee injury and handed the big gloves over to Sadiq. Shapoor came in for his last over and went for 14 as India crossed 100 in the 14th. Raina was dropped again on 20, spilled at point by the 12th man.

Kohli reached his 50 – his sixth half-century in as many international innings – in 38 balls, but got out on the next ball as Afghanistan finally held a catch. Attempting to clear long on with a sweet strike off Dawlat Zadran, Kohli was taken just inside the boundary by Nabi over his head. Raina ran out of luck when he was bowled by Nabi in the last over, but Dhoni clobbered a six and a four off the last two balls as India ended on 159-5.

So (9) Australia were ranked just a spot above (10) Ireland in the T20 rankings, and this had a lot of people talking, smirking at a superficial assessment, that didn’t recognise ability or class. When they came out to play their first match of the World T20 against Ireland, they probably knew that they would win by 7 wickets in the end. What were you saying about their ranking?

On the field, David Warner couldn’t ignore what Niall O’Brien was telling him, it certainly wasn’t banter, as umpires Dharmasena and Dar soon read out the code to the Irish skipper, in an effort to bring the mercury down. The two Ws-Warner and Watson, then decided to let the bat do the talking, raining blows on Boyd Rankin and Trent Johnston, with the bowling more pedestrian, than lethal.

Porterfield read the signs, and brought in his changes, first Alex Cusack and then George Dockrell, with no immediate result, as David Warner brought up his 1000th run in T20 internationals off the former’s second over. Dockrell however enjoyed better luck, as he forced the left-hander to step out, with the ball flying towards Kevin O’Brien, who took a catch running towards the ball from deep midwicket. Take one Ireland.

Man-of-the-Match Shane Watson carried on with the job, putting the bad ball away for four and six, as and when the situation demanded. Paul Stirling did have a caught-and-bowled chance, but failed to grab it with both hands. Watson did. When it came in short, he pulled hard, getting his feet out of the way, soon bringing up a half-century with his third six, more than what eleven Irishmen managed when they had a bat in their hands. But in what came like an abrupt power cut, the all-rounder underestimated Trent Johnston’s throwing arm from short third man, with the throw hitting the bull in its eye, as Watson struggled to reach the bowler’s end.

His partner Michael Hussey, probably got too comfortable playing second fiddle, getting trapped lbw, pad first on off and middle.  The scoreboard read 95/3, and it didn’t matter if Cameron White was dropped by Trent Johnston, a decent effort though for a 38-year old with ageing knees and no hair. White made full use of the providence, using the cross-bat to good effect, bringing up the winning runs with a lofted shot  that saw the ball crossing the ropes at deep midwicket. The gloves came off as he shook hands with the man who succeeded him as T20 skipper- George Bailey.

Earlier, the Irish openers batted like schoolboys after winning the toss, taking the aerial route, failing to realise that they were falling for the bait. Skipper William Porterfield fell off the very first ball of the match, going for the hook, with Mitchell Starc’s long legs at long leg, helping his hands to do the rest. Right-handed Paul Stirling decided to try the same stunt in the same region,  with Shane Watson getting his palms around the ball at third man. 15/2, Ed Joyce and Gary Wilson, the new batsmen at the crease.

They spent as much time at the crease as a fly would under a swatter, with Joyce hitting Maxwell to Warner at mid-off. Gary Wilson opened his account with a good-looking drive to deep extra cover for four, but four balls later, played across when he should have been playing straight to old chinaman Brad Hogg. Bad shot-selection resulting in a bad-looking scoreboard-33/4. Out come the O’Brien brothers- Niall and Kevin.

More than a fightback, it was the gaps that the brothers managed to find, that saw the greenhorns bringing up the highest partnership of their inning. But then  all good things have to come to an end, Niall O’Brien  played across to a slower delivery, only to find Shane Watson’s arms in the air, and his bails. Two balls later, his younger brother did himself in, trying the upper cut, only to find an edge that flew to glovesman Matthew Wade for keeps. Six wickets down, but no six yet in the inning.

Trent Johnston lasted just seven balls against the country of his birth, hitting a four, before being yorked by a Starc beauty.  Australia’s best bowler- Shane Watson wasn’t at his best as he ran in to bowl the last over. Nigel Jones managed to pull a short ball for six, the first of the match, as the Irish milked 12 runs from the last six balls, to finish with a total of 123/7.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Irish were finished even before the Aussies started batting.

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