West Indies’ recent dominance over Afghanistan following their 3-0 ODI sweep of the Asians, continued today with a comfortable 30-run win in the first Twenty20I at Lucknow.
Powered by Evin Lewis’ 68 off 41 at the top of the order, West Indies put up 164 for 5. Afghanistan’s chase never took off and they eventually subsided to 134 for 9, with Kesrick Williams’ picking up 3 for 17.
At the end of three overs, West Indies were 10 for 1, with Lewis batting on 1 off 8 balls. For six overs after that Lewis discovered the cheat codes to this game. After 9 overs, West Indies were 88 for 1, with Lewis on 60 off 31 balls. In that six-over period, he had blasted 59 runs in 23 balls, seemingly finding the boundary at will.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman had given just seven runs in his two overs till then, and taken the wicket of opener Brandon King. Lewis ransacked him for a 16-run over. Fareed Ahmad offered a nippy left-arm option but saw his first over disappear for 17 runs. Lewis had hit a zone where the ball was magnetically drawn to the sweet spot on his bat. His strokes were dotted all around the ground – straight, wide, square and fine. It was a period of mayhem unlike any other in the match. True, the bowlers didn’t really bowl tightly and offered length and width for Lewis to merrily free his arms, but the pace of scoring he hit was still incredible. Apart from that six-over period, in which Lewis scored more than 75 per cent of the runs that came, the rest of the West Indies innings hovered around the run-a-ball mark. That was also the pace that Afghanistan scored at. Those anomalous six-overs were, in fact, the difference between the two teams.
In the face of an onslaught like Lewis’, it would have been easy for Afghanistan to disintegrate and merely wait for their turn to bat. Instead, they regrouped, they came to terms with the areas, and more crucially the pace, at which they would have to bowl and hauled West Indies’ projected score into the competitive territory.
Gulbadin Naib, who has seen a career’s worth of ups and downs in the past six months, was at the forefront of the fightback. Naib bowled a variety of slower balls: off the back of the hand, off-cutters, under-cutters, and did it all well enough for none of West Indies’ array of big hitters to get a handle on. Rashid Khan, whose first over had gone for 15 runs, also found his groove after that, and proved to be his usual miserly, un-readable self. Taking the pace off proved to be the key on this surface, with the ball sticking into the pitch and not coming on to the bat.
The last 11 overs yielded only 76 runs, and ten of those runs came off the last two balls, when Kieron Pollard muscled a six and a four, purely through force and having stayed in the middle long enough to be able to execute.
Afghanistan might have felt confident at the innings break, given a target of 165 and the promise of dew for West Indies’ bowlers to deal with. But to take advantage of the dew when it did start to affect the bowlers, Afghanistan needed two things to happen – to have some of their main batsmen at the crease, and to not be under severe required-rate pressure. The opposite happened, with the West Indies bowlers showing considerably more zip and discipline than the Afghans had. Hazratullah Zazai’s stand-and-deliver method wasn’t as effective against bowlers who could move the ball, and though he didn’t get out, he couldn’t get the runs flowing. With two wickets having fallen in the first three overs and Zazai’s leaden-footedness, Afghanistan stuttered. Only Asghar Afghan and Najibullah Zadran showed any measure of comfort and dominance, but they couldn’t score quickly enough to threaten the target. When they both fell, quickly followed by Mohammad Nabi, it became a matter of only reducing the margin of defeat for Afghanistan.
Captain Pollard was adjudged Man-of-the-Match for his unbeaten 32 and figures of 2 for 17 in three overs.