They have been saying all tournament long that they could beat a top side. They had come through a qualifying tournament in Ireland only to go through a first round that was – to all intents and purposes – another qualifying round. They beat every side in that first round and were ready to take on the big boys in the Super 10s. And, on Sunday (March 27), Afghanistan kept their word alongside a date with destiny to topple the mighty West Indies in a Group 1 game of the ICC World Twenty20 2016 at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur.
It was the first time Afghanistan had been afforded the privilege of meeting West Indies in any international contest. When they meet them next time, they would be able to boast of a 100% win record.
Put in to bat, Afghanistan had struggled their way to 123 for 7, a top-order implosion meaning Najibullah Zadran’s sprightly 48 not out off 40 balls from No. 6 was needed to push the total along towards some respectability. Najibullah would put his body on the line for a key moment in the final over too, running around from midwicket to dive and hold on to a Carlos Brathwaite power hit that decisively swung the game Afghanistan’s way. West Indies ended their innings on 117 for 8, enough to still top the group on net run-rate, but not enough to avoid a six-run defeat in a match they would have least expected to lose.
That Chris Gayle – rested for this match – was missing should take no sheen away from Afghanistan’s magnificent feat. They had given each of the other sides in the group a good run for their money, and having steadily improved with each outing, they got the victory that the entire squad was craving against arguably the strongest team in the group.
The West Indies innings had begun with the customary flurry of big hits, Johnson Charles taking a liking to Mohammad Nabi’s offspin and clattering two massive sixes in the midwicket to long-on region in the second over.
Evin Lewis, on T20 International debut, hadn’t read Amir Hamza’s left-arm spin that well, and an unhappy debut ended on a seven-ball duck when he skied Hamza to Rashid Khan at midwicket in the third over. Andre Fletcher and Charles were building steadily, not always looking very solid but not looking too shaky either, when a six-ball sequence that spanned the sixth and seventh overs burst the contest wide open.
First, Hamid Hassan, brought back for this game in place of Shapoor Zadran, crashed through Charles’s defence with a quick one to shatter timber.
At the end of the over, Fletcher walked off, seemingly having hurt his hamstring while going for a sharp single. Two balls later, a Rashid googly left Marlon Samuels rooted to the crease, searching for the length, even while the ball shattered the stumps. From 33 for 1 in the sixth over, West Indies were effectively 38 for 4, with Fletcher out injured. It fell to Dwayne Bravo and Denesh Ramdin, two of the more ‘correct’ batsmen in the lineup, to do the bailout job.
The Afghanistan bowlers didn’t make it easy, however. The spin trio of Nabi, Samiullah Shenwari and Rashid kept things tight, and even though the pitch was playing truer than it had in West Indies’ last game against South Africa, it wasn’t one on which you could plant your front foot down and slog through the line blindly. The batsmen were kept honest, and the byproduct was a rising required rate.
Nabi made the key breakthrough, trapping Bravo in front for 28 off 29, and ending the 41-run stand. Ramdin was consumed by the rising rate, stepping out without getting to within striking distance of a loopy Rashid delivery for Mohammad Shahzad to whip the bails off.
But with Andre Russell and Darren Sammy at the crease and 35 needed from 24, it was still West Indies’ game to lose.
That’s exactly what they did, with Russell run out trying to go for a second run without looking to see if Sammy had responded, Shahzad doing excellently to hit the stumps direct after the throw had come in at the wrong end.
Afghanistan were dealt a blow when Hassan had to be taken off the attack earlier – Bruce Oxenford ruling that he had bowled two full-tosses above waist height, though the second one was a marginal call, against Russell. Even with Gulbadin Naib filling in, sheer never-say-die spirit carried Afghanistan through. Sammy was caught on the cover fence while trying to manufacture a boundary and Brathwaite couldn’t connect cleanly enough in Nabi’s final over before his dismissal.
Nabi had given up 15 runs in his first over but ended with 2 for 26 in four, identical figures to Rashid, while there was a wicket a piece for Naib, Hamza and Hassan.
That was the sort of collective effort needed after Samuel Badree’s 3 for 14 had kept Afghanistan tied down. Shahzad had got his customary big hits out, and seemed on course to get the innings off to a flier when he fell for 24, taking on Badree unwisely. Asghar Stanikzai had hit Badree for a six, and tried to repeat that shot to hole out.
With Sulieman Benn also keeping things tight, Afghanistan slipped to 56 for 5 in the 12th over. The most electric moment in the field was possibly Nabi’s dismissal off Russell. Having hit the bowler hard in the covers, Nabi saw Sammy get a hand to the ball and palm it upwards, only for Samuels to complete the catch at mid-off, ending a 34-run stand off 28 balls for the sixth wicket that had revived Afghanistan.
But they showed that though down they were far from out, Najibullah marshalling the lower order to add valuable runs. The last three overs brought 30 runs – not earth-shattering, but enough at the time to give the bowlers some hope.
In the end, it turned out to be enough for Afghanistan to script history.