Dubai | Afghanistan rode on sheer determination to pull off a stunning tie against two-time world champions India in one of the most memorable dead rubbers in international cricket, claiming a moral victory to sign off on a high at the Asia Cup here.
India entered the match Tuesday a depleted side after five from its first XI, including skipper Rohit Sharma and his deputy Shikhar Dhawan, took a break to be fresh for the final on Friday.
The wholesale changes gave former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni the chance to lead the team out for the 200th time. he gave up the position more than two years ago.
Set a target of 253, the Indians were cruising along nicely at 204/4 in the 39th over before another collapse left them with seven runs to get in the final over with just one wicket in hand. Twenty20 cricket’s global superstar Rashid Khan showed a big heart as he defended those seven in the final Super Four encounter.
With the dangerous Ravindra Jadeja almost clinching the victory with a boundary and then No.11 Khaleel Ahmed scampering home for his life to tie the scores, a single was all that was required off two deliveries.
If inexperience cost them dearly in the two games against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the rub of the green went their way as Rashid bowled a rank half-tracker, a delivery that Jadeja would have dispatched in the Dubai International Stadium gallery.
But to the Indian team’s horror, he didn’t get the timing right and the resultant catch was taken by Najibullah Zadran, who covered some distance to take a fine running catch at deep mid-wicket region. More than the result, Afghanistan’s performance was reiteration that they are ready to take on any team in shorter formats of the game.
India’s support was vociferous but the bravehearts from the war-torn nation became sentimental favourites as the tournament progressed and they won hearts with their raw talent and cent percent commitment.
Opener Mohammad Shahzad had set up the game for Afghanistan with a whirlwind 124 off 116, the most significant hundred of his career, to take his team to 252 for eight.
The 253-run target was a tricky one for India. India, who have already qualified for the final on Friday, remained unbeaten in the competition though they were left disappointed with the tie. Afghanistan players, on the other hand, can go back home with their heads held high, having competed hard in the tournament.
Apart from Rohit and Dhawan, India also rested Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Yuzvendra Chahal. Ambati Rayudu (57 off 49) and Lokesh Rahul (60 off 66) shared 110 runs for the opening wicket and at that stage it seemed India would win it in a canter. However, the openers departed in quick succession, leaving their team at 127 for two in the 21st over.
Rahul perished while attempting a reverse sweep off Rashid Khan and ended up wasting a LBW review when he was plumb in front. Dinesh Karthik (44) came in at three and Dhoni (8) batted at four.
The review that was squandered by Rahul would have been better used for Dhoni and Karthik, who both fell to questionable LBW decisions. The ball was clearly missing stumps in Dhoni’s case.
Karthik’s dismissal left India at 205 for six, leaving them to get 46 off 60 balls with Rashid still to bowl three overs.
Jadeja’s sensible batting took his side closer the finishing line with 13 needed off 12 balls. The pressure was also telling on India who suffered two needless run outs of Kuldeep Yadav and Siddharth Kaul. In the end, a tie was an apt result for the humdinger.
Earlier, it seemed the unconventional Shahzad was batting on a different surface as the others struggled, hammering 11 fours and as many as seven sixes.
The experienced Mohammad Nabi produced a handy knock, 64 off 56 balls, towards the end ensuring a competitive total for his team.
The undisputed star of the evening was wicket-keeper batsman Shahzad, who was no short of inspiration in the middle with his role model Dhoni standing behind the stumps.
While his opening partner Javed Ahmadi was even struggling to get a single, Shahzad thoroughly entertained the crowd with a barrage of big hits. He was ruthless especially against the rookie Indian pacers Khaleel Ahmed, Siddharth Kaul and debutant Chahar, who were played in place of the rested Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar and Chahal.
Chahar had a forgettable debut even though he picked up a wicket.
The pacers were guilty of bowling too full or too full and Shazad made them pay for their mistakes. Most of his lofty shots were crossed-batted as he cleared his front foot to hit the huge sixes over deep mid-wicket.
He even had his luck on his side as he was dropped at mid-off on way to completing a half century. He reached the three figures for the fifth time in ODIs, with a flick off Chahar towards the fine-leg boundary.
It was not a full-strength Indian bowling attack but that takes nothing away from Shahzad’s stellar effort. His other ODI hundreds had come against Canada, Zimbabwe, Scotland and Netherlands.
Afghanistan would have been in deep trouble if it was not for Shahzad, who was running out of partners at one stage with his team reeling at 82 for four from 65 for no loss after Indian spinners Kuldeep Yadav (2/38) and Ravindra Jadeja (3/46) came into play.
Shahzad was then joined by Gulbadin Naib (15 off 46) and the two shared a 50-run stand for the fifth wicket.
After his dismissal, Nabi started plundering the bowlers, hitting four sixes and three boundaries to take help the team cross 250.