How much action can you pack into a single game of T20 cricket? Afghanistan and Ireland have practically dedicated an entire series to answering that question and here’s what happened on Sunday night.
Mohammad Nabi made 81 off 36 balls. He came in to bat with nearly half the innings done. Kevin O’Brien replied with 74 off 47. He was single-handedly keeping Ireland in the game. Then with only five overs of the contest left, Rashid Khan ambled up and picked up four wickets in four balls, a feat so rare it hasn’t been seen in international cricket since Lasith Malinga sent South African pulses racing in the 2003 World Cup.
In all, there were 388 runs scored, off only 40 overs. And yet, it felt like the people of Dehradun – and indeed anyone that’s been following this series – left wanting oh so much more.
Afghanistan have a way of making their fans feel that way in practically every game. And Rashid plays a big part in that. He is a masterful bowler, and aside from all the variations that he has, including even that legbreak that he seems to delivery out the back of the hand, his time-tested ability to deliver in the death makes for spectacular viewing. He dismissed O’Brien off the final ball of the 16th over with a ball that he tossed up wide, knowing the big-hitting allrounder had to go for runs and that his instinct would make him slog into the leg side. The resulting bottom edge was ever so smartly taken by the wicketkeeper Shafiqullah.
With Ireland needing 53 off 18 balls, Rashid had George Dockrell caught at long-on (thanks to some incredible acrobatics on the boundary from Nabi) and his googly practically made Shane Getkate and Simi Singh self-destruct. The Afghanistan legspinner finished with 5 for 27. His overall average and strike-rate in T20Is is 12. Twelve!
Asghar Afghan has repeatedly said he knows his team can defend any total in a limited-overs game. And there’s no real secret behind it. They try to keep things tight at the start to push the asking rate up. Then, when the batsmen are feeling vulnerable and left with little option but to attack, Rashid comes on and complicates everything. His control – rarely does he give up the short and wide delivery to cut and pull – is their undoing. And by constantly asking the opposition to try and hit good balls to the boundary, he gets truck loads of wickets.
Those four balls, those four moments, stole the spotlight from an amazing innings. Well, two actually. Nabi and O’Brien are among the longest serving allrounders in world cricket. And they only keep getting stronger. Nabi is desperately sought after on the T20 circuit and O’Brien, having waited virtually his entire career to play a Test match, became Ireland’s first centurion. Each is a hero in his own right but here only of them could emerge, silhoutted against the dust as it settled down on an epic game. And that was Nabi. He came in to bat in the eighth over, made 22 off the first 20 balls he faced, and then promptly lashed 59 off the next 16.
More to follow