By R Kaushik in Mirpur
Spinners play the lead as host takes decisive step towards clinching Super 10 berth
In effectively a knockout game, Bangladesh exorcised the demons of the Asia Cup disaster with a commanding nine-wicket drubbing of a shell-shocked Afghanistan at Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in the inaugural match of the Group A qualifying competition, sending the thousands of fans at the venue and millions others across the country into delirium.
There was every possibility of the average Bangladeshi losing interest in the competition in the event of the home side not making it through to the Super 10 phase of the competition. Anticipation was tinged with apprehension in the lead-up to the game, the scars inflicted by Afghanistan during the 32-run win at the same venue in the Asia Cup last week a painful, lingering reminder as Mushfiqur Rahim and Mohammad Nabi walked out for the toss.
In the event, everyone was left wondering what the fuss had been all about. Afghanistan looked nowhere near the force it had threatened to be at various stages of the Asia Cup while Bangladesh, which lost all four matches in the continental 50-over competition, was a unit transformed, stifling its opponents through spin and fielding with an alacrity that was refreshing.
Rahim won a toss that was to prove inconsequential in the end and Mashrafe Mortaza got Bangladesh off to the perfect start by eliciting a loose stroke from Mohammad Shahzad off the first ball of the competition. But it wasn’t until spin was introduced in the shape of Shakib Al Hasan that the game took clear shape. Shakib, Mahmudullah and Abdur Razzak tied Afghanistan up in knots on a surface that allowed the ball to grip and bounce, and from 36 for 1, Afghanistan hurtled on a downward spiral to be shot out for 72, its lowest T20I total, with nearly three overs left unutilised.
Such a paltry score was never going to seriously test Bangladesh, not with Afghanistan relatively light on spinning strength. Nabi got appreciable turn with the new ball, but Tamim Iqbal and Anamul Haque in particular scored freely to set the base for their winning total of 78 for 1 with 48 deliveries to spare.
About the only talking point during the chase was Dawlat Zadran’s run-ins, first with Tamim, then Shakib. Dawlat, who worked up good pace and touched 90mph more than once, appealed unsuccessfully and needlessly for ‘obstructing the field’ against Tamim who was talking evasive action, then got in Shakib’s ears after a snorter that struck the batsman on his gloves. It was part aggression, part frustration, stemming from the realisation that his batsmen had left him and his bowling colleagues with simply nothing to defend.
As well as Bangladesh’s assortment of spinners bowled, it was a disappointing performance from Afghanistan’s batsmen, who looked ill at ease the moment spin was introduced. All this, after Gulbadin Naib had threatened something substantial by clattering Al-Amin Hossain over long-on and following it up with two boundaries to somewhat offset the early loss of Shahzad.
Just about the only mistake from Bangladesh on the field came when Sabbir Rahman put Naib down at long-on off Shakib. Rahman immediately atoned for that lapse by running some 15 yards to his right to hang on to a slog-sweep off the very next delivery, and when Najeeb Tarakai, the other opener, fell next ball, getting a leading edge to an intended flick, the cat was well and truly among the pigeons.
Afghanistan had shown a distinct fallibility against spin in the Asia Cup, and that old failing came back to haunt it again. As the ball turned, the batsmen tried to hit their way out of trouble and came a distinct cropper. It didn’t help their cause either that Bangladesh was on top of its fielding game, Rahman scoring a direct hit from short fine-leg to evict Nawroz Mangal and Farhad Reza producing a stunning throw from deep midwicket that crashed into the stumps at the bowler’s end to get rid of Karim Sadiq.
Sadiq was one of only three Afghan batsmen to touch double figures. The spinners’ figures were quite flattering – Shakib finished with 3 for 8 from 3.1 overs, Mahmudullah had 1 for 8 from 4 and Razzak 2 for 20 from 4. That amounted to 6 for 36 from 11.1 overs of spin. Afghanistan lost its last nine wickets for 36 runs in 72 deliveries and, most likely, the chance to keep itself in contention for a Super 10 berth.