GROS ISLET, St Lucia – The fragility of the West Indies team to quality spin was cruelly exposed as they were embarrassed by Afghanistan at the Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium Friday night.
Afghanistan had won on four previous occasions when leg-spinner Rashid Khan had picked four wickets or more. But Friday night brought him one of his tougher challenges: he had only 212 to defend on a sluggish St Lucia surface but that only seemed to spur him on. The talented 18-year old finished with 7 for 18 – the fourth-best haul in ODI history – and West Indies were bowled out for 149.
The 63-run victory for Afghanistan, their first in this format over a Full Member other than Zimbabwe, exposed the ineptness of a West Indies unit struggling in their quest to qualify directly for the 2019 World Cup.
Khan, introduced in the 23rd over with West Indies looking seemingly steady at 68 for 2, broke open the game by picking up four wickets for one run. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, he was on a hat-trick twice during the course of his first two overs.
Jason Mohammed played for a straight ball when there was turn, debutant Roston Chase fell for a golden duck, completely deceived by a googly, Shai Hope was snaffled courtesy Mohammad Nabi’s brilliance at slip and Jason Holder’s defence was breached by a ripping wrong ‘un. At 70 for 6, West Indies were railroaded, having to switch back to survival mode.
That didn’t prevent Ashley Nurse from trying ungainly slogs and was quickly shown his place by a skiddy googly that gave Rashid his second five-for in ODIs. The upset was sealed in the 45th over as Afghanistan added to the shockwaves that rocked the cricket world Friday night. After all, it was only a few hours previously that another underdog Bangladesh had stunned New Zealand in the Champions Trophy.
While Khan walked away with the plaudits, Javed Ahmadi quietly worked his way through to make 81, his highest ODI score, to set the game up. He showed the resolve to fight through testing spells from Shannon Gabriel and Miguel Cummins and, given he had to face a lot of short-pitched bowling, he also showed that he was particularly strong square of the wicket. Forty of his runs, including four fours and a six, came behind point.
Ahmadi built the platform in a slow, but assured, second-wicket stand of 55 with Rahmat Shah, before West Indies hit back with two quick strikes. They went into a shell against Nurse, who used the strong breeze to drift the ball away from the right-handers. He took out Asghar Stanikzai, who played for turn when there was none, and Samiullah Shenwari, who was unfortunately given out as the ball lobbed to slip off his forearm while trying to reverse sweep.
With Afghanistan at 131 for 5 in the 38th over, and Ahmadi back in the pavilion as well, West Indies had a firm grip over the contest. But Gulbadin Naib used his muscle to pepper the legside boundary and take apart Jason Holder, who conceded 36 off his last three overs. Naib would hammer three fours and two sixes in his unbeaten 28-ball 41. The 58-run stand for the eighth wicket with Mohammad Nabi, who quietly finished 27 not out, would signal the change in momentum for Afghanistan.
West Indies would have hoped for a brisk start from their batsmen but it was not to be and by being diffident and overcautious, they played themselves into a situation where one costly lapse could trigger an alarming slide. And slide they did.
The two teams meet again on Sunday with Afghanistan eyeing a series win and West Indies seeking to avert further shame.