A transformed Afghanistan side employed four spinners of varying paces and styles backed by sharp, committed fielding to give themselves a real chance of beating twice world champions India at the Hampshire Bowl.
But their gallant run chase fell agonisingly short and hopes of an upset comparable to any in ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup history vanished.
Afghanistan lost their opening game against defending champions Australia, followed by defeats at the hands of Sri Lanka, New Zealand and South Africa before a 150-run loss to England.
The England match, though, was the first time they had managed to bat out their 50 overs and afterwards their premier spinner Rashid Khan, who conceded 110 runs from nine overs, pointed out that his team had never played South Africa and last met New Zealand four years ago.
Against more familiar opponents in India under welcome sunshine and on a pale white pitch which could have been airlifted from Asia, Afghanistan demonstrated the determination and drive which has dragged them from obscurity to the game’s showpiece tournament.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid and Rahmat Shah bowled 34 of the 50 overs and captured five of the eight Indian wickets to fall at a total cost of 119 runs. Before Saturday’s match at the Hampshire Bowl, not a single Indian wicket had fallen to spin during the tournament.
A crowd, dominated by Indian supporters, many of whom had packed the morning trains from London, were reduced to silence for long periods of their team’s innings by the subtleties of the Afghani slow bowlers backed by their fielders with the exception of one missed run out attempt.
Afghanistan revealed their strategy by entrusting the opening over to Mujeeb with his mixture of finger and wrist spin. He responded by bowling Rohit Sharma for one off the second ball of his third over with a leg-break which drifted into the batsman’s pads. Sharma followed the ball but was then beaten completely when it spun sharply off the pitch across the batsman’s body to hit the off stump.
After bowling six overs for 18 runs, including just one boundary, Mujeeb was replaced by the floaty off-spin of Nabi, who was to prove equally effective.
Nabi frustrated KL Rahul, who stretched forward to play an ill-judged reverse sweep which resulted in a simple catch at short third man, and conceded only 17 runs from his first five overs.
Captain Gulbadin Naib waited until the 19th over before introducing his Rashid.
Mindful of Rashid’s ordeal at Old Trafford, India captain Virat Kohli responded by stretching forward to lash the leg-spinner’s first ball past long-off to the boundary. But Rashid, although he again appeared to be bowling too fast and too flat as he had in the opening matches, maintained his composure and his opening five-over spell cost an acceptable 26 runs.
Rahmat was then thrown the ball and the leg-spinning all-rounder responded by dismissing Vijay Shankar lbw in an initial three-over spell. Nabi returned to capture the prized wicket of Kohli, the top scorer with 67, who decided to risk cutting the bowler against the spin. The ball bounced higher than he expected and ended up in the hands of point.
MS Dhoni, India’s renowned finisher, was unable to force the pace as he struggled to come to terms with the pitch, and was stumped for the second time only in one-day internationals when he shuffled down the pitch after Rashid returned for a third spell.
Afghanistan finished with medium pace at both ends but, with the bowlers shrewdly taking the pace off the ball, the Indian batsmen were unable to take advantage and the team’s total for 224/8 was their lowest since 2010.