Rohit Sharma leads way as India earn lifeline against Afghanistan in T20 World Cup

Virat Kohli's side throw off shackles as they overpower the Afghans

Rumours of India’s demise have, it appears, been greatly exaggerated.

Sure, the nominal hosts of the T20 World Cup still need an unlikely sequence of results to fall in their favour if they are the stand a chance of advancing to the semifinals.

But they provided the sort of statement performance against Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi that said: we are not done yet.

After two tepid losses had left them on the brink of elimination, Virat Kohli’s side threw off the shackles with a powerful 66-run win at Zayed Cricket Stadium.

Bizarrely, the Indian board deemed the 15th over of their side’s innings the ideal time to issue a statement confirming Rahul Dravid will be their new head coach, starting at the end of this tournament.

If the timing was designed to distract from their side’s imminent departure from what is technically a “home” World Cup, they were premature.

India’s batters were motoring at the time, flaying the beleaguered Afghan bowlers to all parts of the ground.

In the previous two defeats, their batters have attracted scorn for the sedateness of their approach. There was no lack of intent this time around.

Rohit Sharma, restored to the top of the order after being shuffled down one space last time out, led the way. The Mumbai Indians captain top scored with 74 from 47 balls.

Just as the BCCI comms team were pressing send on their email about Dravid’s appointment, Rohit drilled a catch to Mohammed Nabi at extra cover.

It brought to an end a first-wicket alliance worth 140 with KL Rahul, who went on to make 69 off 48 balls.

For the first time in the tournament, each of the batters who made it to the crease scored at a higher strike-rate than the player who had gone before.

The frenzy reached its peak with a whirlwind cameo worth 35 from a mere 13 balls by Hardik Pandya.

He even survived a collision with the burly Afghan wicketkeeper Mohammed Shahzad, albeit after some treatment from the physio, as India amassed a mighty 210 for two from their 20 overs.

The Afghans got nowhere close in reply, even if Rahmanullah Gurbaz briefly hinted that they might be able to.

India and Afghanistan fans descend on Abu Dhabi

In the first match since Asghar Afghan's retirement midway through the competition, it was his younger brother Karim Janat who top scored.

The all-rounder ended unbeaten on 42 from 22 balls, as Afghanistan made 144 for seven. Ravichandran Ashwin was the pick of the bowlers, as he took two for 14 from his four overs.

Despite appeals in recent days by Nabi and Rashid Khan for fans without tickets to stay away from the game, some ticketless Afghans did congregate outside the stadium.

A large group massed in the car park adjacent to the ground ahead of the 6pm start.

However, there was no repeat of the crowd disturbances that had marred Afghanistan’s match with Pakistan in Dubai last week, as they were kept a distance from the ground by security forces.

The policing operation had been ramped up ahead of the game, with more than 250 extra security personnel added.

A fleet of Special Tasks vehicles were on site, as was an anti-riot police van equipped with water cannons.

The K9 department of Abu Dhabi Police were ready with dogs, while mounted police conducted regular circuits of the perimeter to ward off any problems.

It had the desired effect. Inside the stadium, there was nothing in the way of unrest, even if one half of the supporters went home dejected.

For the Indian fans, though, there is reason still to believe. Their two remaining matches are against Namibia and Scotland, when they will hope to advance their net run rate further still.

If New Zealand are to slip up in any of their own remaining games - and they face Afghanistan on the last day - then India will be loitering with intent.

Updated: November 3rd 2021, 6:07 PM