It may have been a case of too little too late, but India at least ended their Asia Cup campaign on a high note with a convincing victory over Afghanistan in Dubai.
Pakistan’s victory over the Afghans on Wednesday had ensured that neither team could make Sunday’s final, meaning that this was, in effect, a dead rubber.
That did not mean the match was wholly without significance, though. And for two men in particular, Virat Kohli and Bhuvneshwar Kumar – both of whom have faced their fair share of critics – it provided a timely reminder of just what they bring to the side.
Afghanistan won the toss and, following the pattern in Dubai throughout this tournament, decided to field first.
This time, though, the tactic did not work as the Indian opening pair of KL Rahul and Kohli put on 119 for the first wicket in less than 13 overs. Fareed Ahmed took two quick wickets, dismissing Rahul for 62 and Suryakumar Yadav cheaply, but Kohli was joined in the middle by Rishabh Pant and they put on an unbeaten 87 with Kohli making his first T20I century by finishing on 122 not out.
They enabled India to close on 212/2 – the highest score by any team in this tournament.
Afghanistan made a terrible start to their reply and soon found themselves 9/4 and then 21/6. Ibrahim Zadran provided some defiance by making an undefeated 64, but his side could only limp to a total of 111/8 in the end, slumping to a 101 run defeat.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar starred with the ball, taking 5 – 4, although it was Kohli who picked up the award for Player of the Match.
Here are some key talking points.
Kohli ends his drought
It had been nearly three years – or 1,021 days to be precise – since Virat Kohli had last struck a century. There were some who feared that he may have been in a decline, but after being rested for the West Indies series and taken time away from the sport, he seems to have been rejuvenated.
Earlier scores in the tournament of 60 against Pakistan and an unbeaten 59 had provided hints that he may be rediscovering his form again and that was confirmed with this innings, which saw him average almost two runs a ball and included 6 sixes and 12 fours. It was his 71st century in all forms of cricket, and arguably, one of his most important.
If he has played his way into form ahead of the World Cup, then this may be one of the biggest successes of this tournament as far as India are concerned.
Both Rahul and Pant spent time in the middle
Although overshadowed by Kohli, both Rahul and Pant would have been glad to spend some time in the middle and get runs under their belt. That should give both some confidence.
Kumar answers his critics
Although Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been a reliable performer for India in this format for some time, and in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, he had come in for his fair share of criticism in this series after conceding a lot of runs in the death overs against both Pakistan and India.
However, he showed once again what a top performer he can be with a brilliant bowling spell that ripped the guts out of the Afghan innings with two wickets in his first over and two more in his second. In the end, his figures were good enough to earn him inclusion on the list of best ever in T20I cricket.
Sorry end for Afghanistan
It was a sorry way for Afghanistan to bow out of a tournament that had started so brightly for them as they won their group in convincing fashion.
In the end, though, their batting and bowling did not stand up to the pressure of knock-out cricket and they have a lot of work to do if they want to be competitive at the World Cup.
What next for India?
The players will fly home but there is little time to rest. Because in just over a week’s time, Australia arrive to play a three match T20I series.
And three days after that, it is the South Africans turn to arrive for their own mini-series as teams step up their preparations for next month’s T20I World Cup.
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