Shahzad 124, Nabi 64 lift Afghanistan to 252

DUBAI (Monitoring Desk): A dead-rubber ODI in Dubai suddenly drew interest when MS Dhoni, having given up India’s limited-overs captaincy in January 2017, was given the leadership once again because India rested Rohit Sharma among several other senior players. It then burst into life when Mohammad Shahzad – whose hero is Dhoni – smoked a record-equalling century to lead Afghanistan to 252 for 8. When Shahzad reached the landmark off his 88th ball with a gentle tickle to the fine-leg boundary – a shot that belied the ferocity of the innings – Afghanistan’s score was 131 for 4. This was the joint lowest when a batsman had reached his hundred in ODIs since 2001.

When Shahid Afridi had shellacked a 45-ball century against India in 2005 in Kanpur, Pakistan’s score was also 131. It was Dhoni’s eighth ODI. Here in Dubai, it was Dhoni’s 326th ODI and 200th as captain. But it was the other MS – Shahzad who stole the show. He repeatedly lost his shape but still repeatedly mowed India’s depleted attack – Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, and Yuzvendra Chahal were all rested – into the longer leg-side boundaries.

Deepak Chahar who was making his ODI debut was brutally helicoptered over the midwicket boundary. Ravindra Jadeja was swatted away, against the turn, like a fly. Kedar Jadhav was slog-swept over his head. Khaleel Ahmed was muscled into a stand where Afghanistan fans were waving their flags vigorously. Shahzad, though, was more circumspect against the left-arm wristspin of Kuldeep Yadav, managing only 4 off 13 balls from him.

A nervous Chahar bowled a beamer in his second over and followed it with two slower bouncers – both of which were called wides – and then watched Shahzad clear his front leg and send a full ball over midwicket for six. It was a portent for how things would unfold. With the other seamers also looking powerless against Shahzad, Dhoni turned to Jadeja, who struck in his third over to have Javed Ahmadi stumped. He had contributed 5 off 30 balls in a 65-run opening stand. In his next over, Jadeja burst through Rahmat Shah’s defences with a fizzing arm ball.

Kuldeep then dismissed the in-form Hashmatullah Shahidi and captain Asghar Afghan for ducks to leave Afghanistan at 82 for 4. When they reached 100, Shahzad claimed 86, having raised his fifty off 37 balls, when Kaul dropped a difficult catch at mid-off.

He was made to work harder for his second fifty, which he brought up off 51 balls. He copped a blow on his right shoulder on 93 and reviewed successfully after he had been given out caught behind by umpire Anisur Rahman. Chahar then pinged him on his hip with a sharp short ball. Shahzad moved to 124 off 116 balls before he holed out to long-off.

Chahar had got his maiden ODI wicket when Gulbadin Naib tugged him straight into the lap of deep backward square leg, but Mohammad Nabi and Naijibullah Zadran buoyed Afghanistan with a busy 46-run partnership off 38 balls. Nabi, who was happy to ride in Shahzad’s slipstream, found a higher gear after the opener was dismissed. He hit a security guard in the stands when he launched Kuldeep over midwicket. Najibullah was trapped by Jadeja for a run-a-ball 20, but Nabi continued to pepper the midwicket fence.

Then, in the 48th over, Khaleel tricked Nabi with a slower cutter and had him spooning a catch to Kuldeep, who hung onto the ball, despite colliding with Dinesh Karthik. Kaul then nailed his yorkers at the death to help stifle Aftab Alam and Rashid Khan. Afghanistan will also be anxious about a possible injury to Rashid, who after receiving treatment on his right hamstring clutched it and opted against a single in the last over.

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