ABU DHABI: Opening batsman Rohit Sharma hit a blistering 74 to set up India’s first win at the T20 World Cup with a 66-run drubbing of Afghanistan on Wednesday as Virat Kohli’s team avoided a shock early exit.
The Indian batting finally fired with Sharma and KL Rahul, who made 69, putting on 140 for the opening wicket to guide India to 210 for two in their must-win Super 12 game in Abu Dhabi.
The tournament’s highest total proved too much for Afghanistan who finished on 144-7 in 20 overs.
They still remain in the hunt for the semi-finals along with New Zealand and India. Pakistan have already secured their place in the last-four from the group.
“It was a much better wicket today, to be fair,” said India skipper Kohli.
“We back the guys because they’re so skillful, and sometimes it comes off like today. To give credit to the oppositions, they bowled really well in the first two matches and didn’t let us get away.”
India, who came in as hot favourites but crashed to two straight losses, needed to win their remaining three games and depend on others for their entry in the semis.
Returning off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin returned figures of 2-14 in his first white-ball international since 2017.
Afghanistan, who usually bat first, decided to put India in but that plan spectacularly backfired.
“We wanted to bat second because of the dew, and the wicket looked really good for batting,” said captain Mohammad Nabi whose team now have two wins and two losses.
– ‘Threw wickets away’ –
“In the end there wasn’t that much dew, but India batted really well on this pitch and put our bowlers under pressure. We threw away our wickets and got under pressure.”
But Sharma remained the star with his 47-ball knock that deflated the opposition bowling after Afghanistan elected to field first.
Sharma took five balls to get going with a boundary off skipper Mohammad Nabi, who opened the attack with his off spin, and then tore into the bowling attack.
India raced to 53 in the first six overs of powerplay to signal their intent.
Rohit reached his fifty with a boundary off fast bowler Naveen-ul-Haq and then hit a six to bring up the 100 for the opening stand.
Sharma, who had scores of zero and 14 in India’s two losses, smashed the bowlers all around the park for eight fours and three sixes in his 47-ball knock before losing his wicket to Karim Janat.
Rahul soon followed his partner to the dugout after being bowled by Gulbadin Naib on a slower yorker.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya rode the momentum, putting on an unbeaten partnership of 63.
Pandya, who hit 35, and the left-handed Pant, who made 27, hit five sixes between them.
Afghanistan lead spinner Rashid Khan remained wicketless and gave away 36 runs from his four overs.
Naveen-ul-Haq was crashed for 59 runs off his four-over allocation.
India’s new-ball bowlers Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah took out the Afghanistan openers early in the innings.
Rahmanullah Gurbaz hit back with two fours and two sixes off Shami’s third over but soon fell to Ravindra Jadeja after his 10-ball 19.
Ashwin, who came in to the XI in place of Varun Chakravarthy, got down to business as he trapped Gulbadin Naib lbw for 18 and bowled Najibullah Zadran to put Afghanistan in trouble at 69-5.
Never in the chase, Nabi and Janat, who made an unbeaten 42 off 22 balls, put on 57 runs for the sixth wicket to reduce their margin of loss.
Shami broke the stand to send back Nabi and then got Rashid Khan for nought in his final over to finish with three wickets in the match.
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