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South Africa overcomes plucky Afghan challenge

Chris Morris takes four as Proteas side completes 37-run win after AB de Villiers’ 64 drives the team to 209 for 5

20 March 2016 18:57 By Dileep Premachandran, Mumbai

For more than half this match, Afghanistan, new kids on the Super 10s block, could dare to dream. After 16 overs with the ball, it had restricted South Africa to 138 for 3. Then, AB de Villiers cleared the rope four times and struck a four in a Rashid Khan over that went for 29, as the favourite rattled up 209 for 5.

An asking rate of 10.5 an over? No problem. Mohammad Shahzad feasted on bowling that was either too full or too short to wallop fives sixes and three fours in a 19-ball 44. By the time Chris Morris pegged back his stumps, Afghanistan had 52 on the board in just four overs. There was no lack of big hits or effort in the next 16, but it eventually fell 37 short.

Afghanistan, who left out Hamid Hassan, its most celebrated pace bowler, had opened the bowling with Amir Hamza’s left-arm spin, but Quinton de Kock gave South Africa the perfect start with two deftly placed cuts either side of a sweep for four. Dawlat Zadran began by conceding two fours to de Kock, and Asghar Stanikzai swiftly turned to another of the cult heroes, Shapoor Zadran.

Hashim Amla square-drove him for four, but could only mistime the next to mid-off. De Kock and Faf du Plessis built steadily though, picking off the loose balls as 66 came from the Power Play. Rashid came on and gave away just two in his opening over, but the runs kept coming at the other end, with du Plessis playing an incredible one-handed loft over cover off Mohammad Nabi.

Du Plessis struck seven fours and six in his 41 before hesitation while going for a single off Hamza saw him run-out at the striker’s end. De Kock didn’t last much longer either, under-edging a cut off Hamza for Shahzad to pouch behind the stumps. He made 45 from just 31 balls.

De Villiers started fairly watchfully, though there was one impudent reverse-paddle for four off Samiullah Shenwari. Then came the key moment. On 26, and with the scoreboard showing 129 for 3, he whacked one back at Shenwari and the bowler couldn’t hold on. By the time de Villiers finally holed out to deep midwicket, he had romped to 64 from 29 balls.

Cameos from JP Duminy, who would later go off with a hamstring strain in the first over of the Afghan innings, and David Miller took South Africa past 200, though that didn’t look safe until it had seen the back of Shahzad and his blacksmith-on-anvil hitting.

It wasn’t that his teammates were lacking in belligerence though. Gulbadin Naib, called up for this game, biffed happily down the ground in an 18-ball 26 as South Africa’s pace bowlers, with the notable exception of Morris, struggled with their lines and lengths.

Noor Ali Zadran held up one end with 25, and Shenwari contributed 25 from just 14 balls, but Afghanistan couldn’t find a de Villiers-like over once Shahzad, who took 22 off Kyle Abbott’s first, had departed.

The middle and lower-order batsmen swung at everything, but wickets fell often enough to ensure that there was no realistic chance of the target being overhauled. Morris led the way for South Africa – who dropped Dale Steyn, only to see David Wiese, his replacement, go for 47 – with excellent figures of 4 for 27, while Imran Tahir continued his good form with 2 for 24.

The Afghan fans, especially those that had filled up the Sunil Gavaskar Pavilion, never stopped cheering, but in the end, those six balls where de Villiers cleared the straight and midwicket boundaries with awesome power made all the difference.

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