“For Shahzad, Afghanistan will be hoping him to replicate his magical performance on a regular basis in the matches to come”
The penultimate game of Super 4s between India and Afghanistan was a dead rubber, but it turned out to be one of a thriller. In fact, India rested their key players for this game, and opted to play a second string attack against a team, who were already knocked out while India had secured a place in the final. In the absence of stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni rekindled memories of his captaincy days by taking the command on Tuesday. Prior to this game, Afghanistan had produced two-nail-biters in the Super 4s, but were unfortunate to have ended up on the losing side. Against India, they seek some redemption as the nerve-wracking game ended in a tie.
Afghanistan opted to bat first, both the teams had nothing to lose, but they did put up one hell of a fight. Just a day before, the news of Mohammad Shahzad being approached for spot-fixing in the upcoming Afghan Premier League T20 made rounds in the fraternity. The maverick batsman reported the incident to the team management and it was time to get over it and focus against India. Despite India playing a second string attack, Afghanistan needed some big runs on the board in order to pose any threat to the Indian batsmen.
Shahzad is widely reckoned for his belligerence at the top; he doesn’t hold back and plays his natural game regardless of the attack. His performance wasn’t up to the mark in the previous encounter, where he scored a sluggish fifty. Against India, he fired with all cylinders. The pitch had enough assistance for the batsmen, and Shahzad exploited it to the fullest. He was lucky to get off the mark with a top-edge, which flew over the wicket-keeper and first slip. He may have not got his first runs in a desired manner, but didn’t stop since then.
Shahzad took the attack to the opposition, he played his strokes and there were no half measures. He punished the deliveries in his zone and Indian seamers were finding it difficult to find their rhythm against him, especially Deepak Chahar. This was some serious power-hitting from Shahzad; his risks were calculated and this was a fine example of controlled aggression. His partner Javed Ahmadi was finding it extremely difficult to rotate the strike, but that didn’t affect Shahzad. He made batting look extremely easy, it was almost like he was batting on a different surface altogether.
Shahzad was fortunate while batting on 49; Amabati Rayudu dropped a not so difficult catch at mid-off and gave him a lifeline. Shahzad made the most of this and went on to score an emphatic century. He kept attacking and his intent was clear. He did play out the good deliveries with all due respect and went hard on deliveries pitched in his zone. Spin had been a problem for Shahzad in the tournament so far, but greeted his first ball from a spinner with a six. Jadeja had bowled a maiden over before to Ahmadi, in his second over; Shahzad hit him over mid-wicket to put the pressure back on the bowler.
Shahzad improvised against spinners and didn’t let them get the better of him. He was beaten at times, but didn’t throw it away and stuck to his guns. Runs kept flowing; he was batting at a blistering strike-rate. Wickets kept tumbling at the other end, but he remained unaffected. He was given out while batting on 93, but a review saved him. He flicked one from Chahar towards the fine-leg boundary to bring up his century. Shahzad battled with his own body, the scorching UAE heat to bring up his century. There was a wide exhibition of cut, pull and big strokes in his innings and earned accolades from many.
This was also a record innings as Afghanistan’s total was just 131 when Shahzad achieved the milestone. This is also the joint-lowest team total along with Shahid Afridi when a batsman has reached his century. Eventually, Kedar Jadhav got the better of him on 124 when he sliced one up in the air only to be cupped by Dinesh Karthik. Afghanistan had already reached the 180-run mark when Shahzad was dismissed. Not to forget, five batsmen departed before him with the highest being 15. This was easily one of the best innings in ODI cricket and will infuse a lot of confidence in Shahzad.
The match ended in a tie, and Afghanistan were pretty much satisfied by their strong-willed performance. They needed some consolation from this valiant campaign, which they eventually got against India. Shahzad continues to be Afghanistan’s vital cog at the top and had a successful campaign in the Asia Cup. He is currently the third highest run-scorer in the tournament just below Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma with 268 runs in his basket at a staggering average of 53.60.
Afghanistan have certainly got rid of their tag of being push-overs; they knocked out Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the first round and gave the Asian giants a run for their money in the Super 4s. For Shahzad, Afghanistan will be hoping him to replicate his magical performance on a regular basis in the matches to come.