Exciting opening day in World Twenty20 as debutants Afghanistan prepare to take on India.
|Afghan batsman Stanikzai hits one of his three sixes into the stands in St Lucia [AFP]|
India opened their World Twenty20 campaign with a seven-wicket win over Afghanistan as the debutants performed fitfully on their step up to top-level cricket.
The part-timers from Afghanistan were outclassed in every department but posted a respectable total of 115 for eight thanks to 50 from opener Noor Ali and 30 by Asghar Stanikzai.
Their fourth-wicket stand of 68 saw hard-hitting Stanikzai smash three sixes in his innings.
Despite losing three wickets, India had few problems reaching their target with 31 balls to spare in St Lucia on Saturday.
Murali Vijay top-scored with a brisk 48 that featured three sixes.
Ashish Nehra led the Indian attack with three wickets for 19 runs while Vijay, making his Twenty20 debut in place of injured opening batsman Virender Sehwag, holed out two short of his half ton when his team were in sight of victory.
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the toss and elected to field.
The former champions did not have long to wait for wickets, Karim Sadiq caught down the legside by wicketkeeper Dhoni off left-arm quick Nehra for nought as he tried to pull a short ball.
But Ali gave Afghan fans something to cheer by leg-glancing the first four of the innings, off Praveen Kumar in the third over and he stylishly square-drove the same bowler for another boundary.
However, Mohammad Shahzad fell in similar fashion to Sadiq and Afghanistan captain Nowroz Mangal fell cheaply to Ravindra Jadeja.
Stanikzai though gave Ali good support and smote some impressive boundaries, including a six over midwicket off Harbhajan Singh.
The duo’s stand was ended when Ali, whose fifty came off 47 balls with four fours, gave the returning Nehra a third wicket when he too failed with a pull, Dhoni once more taking the catch.
Then 97 for four became 97 for five when Stanikzai, whose runs came from just 33 balls, holed out to midwicket off Kumar.
Next ball Mohammad Nabi skied Kumar to Dhoni.
But Afghanistan got past the hundred mark – a fair achievement in itself and all the more impressive given that less than two years ago they were playing alongside Germany and Vanuatu in Division Five of the World Cricket League.
However, their score was put in perspective when Dawlat Ahmadzai’s no-ball first delivery of the Indian innings led to a free hit which Vijay struck for four.
However, Ahmadzai did have Gautam Gambhir caught at point for four and Samiullah Shenwari had Suresh Raina lbw for 18.
India play their next Group C match against South Africa on Sunday while Afghanistan meet the South Africans on Wednesday.
Pakistan made an encouraging start to the defence of their title with a 21-run win over Bangladesh in the late match in St Lucia.
Openers Kamran Akmal and Salman Butt made identical scores of 73 and shared a 142-run partnership that laid the platform for Pakistan’s impressive total of 172 for three.
Bangladesh recovered from a slow start to make a late charge at their target with Mohammad Ashraful belting 65 and Shakib Al Hasan 47 but their dismissals ended their team’s slim hopes and they finished on 151-7.
Pakistan face Australia on Sunday in their final Group A match while Bangladesh tackle the Australians at Barbados on Wednesday needing to win to have any hope of making the playoffs.