Southampton, United Kingdom: Mohammed Shami took a dramatic hat-trick to break Afghan hearts as India narrowly avoided one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history on Saturday, squeaking home by 11 runs against the minnows.
Afghanistan, playing in only their second World Cup, were in the game throughout, despite losing the toss under sunny skies in Southampton, restricting their mighty opponents to just 224-8 in their 50 overs.
They were well set at 106-2 in the 29th over and still threatened an upset with 16 needed off the final over. Mohammad Nabi drilled the first ball of the final over down the ground for four to strike fear into the hordes of flag-waving India fans.
But Shami, playing his first game of the World Cup, had Nabi (52) caught at long on by Hardik Pandya two balls later before bowling Aftab Alam and Mujeeb Ur Rahman to seal a nerve-jangling win with a hat-trick.
“This game was important for us. It didn’t go as planned,” said India captain Virat Kohli, whose unbeaten team are now third in the 10-team table, with the top four qualifying for next month’s semifinals. “When things don’t go your way you need to show character and bounce back.
“That showed the character of our team. We can take lot of heart from this win and take the confidence forward.”
The tide turned in the 29th over of Afghanistan’s innings, when man-of-the-match Jasprit Bumrah removed Rahmat Shah (36) and Hashmatullah Shahidi (21) within the space of three balls.
Nabi and Najibullah Zadran batted sensibly to keep their side in the hunt and Rashid Khan sparkled briefly. Although the Afghans were falling behind the rate, they kept chipping away but ultimately fell just short and slipped to their sixth straight World Cup defeat.
Bumrah, the world’s top-ranked one-day international bowler, finished with figures of 2-39 from his 10 overs, bowling superbly at the death. Shami finished with 4-40 as Afghanistan were bowled out for 213.
Frustrated Afghanistan skipper Naib said: “We bowled really well. We did well in batting, but credit to Bumrah for how he bowled in the last two or three overs.
“If you chase 250 then middle-order batsmen should go longer and take responsibility.”
Afghanistan have been the whipping boys of the tournament in England and Wales, often looking out of their depth against the bigger teams.
Saturday’s match was only the third one-day international between the two teams and defeat for India would have been a major embarrassment despite last year’s tie in the Asia Cup. India were on the back foot right at the start of the match when in-form opener Rohit Sharma, who has scored two hundreds so far in the tournament, was dismissed for just one by off-spinner Mujeeb.
The rest of India’s powerful top order all got established, with Kohli making 67, but none went on to play a decisive innings for the two-time champions. Mujeeb was particularly impressive, conceding just 26 runs in his 10 overs, while leg-spinner Rashid Khan bounced back from the most expensive spell in World Cup history against England to take 1-38.
Kohli, who scored half-centuries against Australia and Pakistan, reached his third consecutive fifty of the tournament off 48 balls, with four fours, but was caught by Shah off the bowling of Nabi.
Kedar Jadhav reached his fifty off 66 balls, giving the scorecard a look of respectability and the total ultimately proved just too much for Afghanistan.