Afghanistan humbled world champions West Indies to win the T20 series 2-1 with a facile 29-run victory in the last match at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium here on Sunday. The win was powered by wicketkeeper-batsman Rahmanullah Gurbaz’s career best knock of 79 off 52 balls with six fours and five mighty sixes. His previous best in a T20 game was 61. After a 0-3 mauling in the ODIs, the series win in T20s is a shot in the arm for the Rashid Khan and Co, who are aiming to make an impression at next year’s Asia Cup and the World Cup T20.
Tight bowling by the Afghan attack restricted the West Indies to 127/7 off 20 overs while chasing a target of 157 on a surface where batting looked difficult in the second innings. It was almost a repeat of the Saturday’s match when Afghanistan scripted a 41-run win.
Although skipper Rashid Khan could take just a wicket in his four-over spell conceding 18 runs, he judiciously mixed googlies and leg spin to keep the Windies batsmen, including big hitter Kieron Pollard, in check.
For the West Indies, the experienced Shai Hope, who scored his 15th half-century in his 70th T20 game, tried to shore up the innings with a 46-ball 52, but his departure on the very first ball of the penultimate over dashed all hopes of the team. He was caught at extra cover by Asghar off Gulbadin Naib, who bowled a wide yorker outside off-stump only to lure the batsman. Just before that, Naveen-ul-Haq had Pollard caught by Zadran at deep midwicket. Haq finished with 3/24.
A 38-run fourth-wicket stand between Hope and Shimron Hetmyer (11) kept the West Indies in the game, but some outstanding fielding by Afghans, especially Naib and former skipper Asghar, denied them victory.
In fact, Afghanistan got off to a shaky start as they lost two quick wickets by the end of the third over after Khan chose to bat first for the second successive time.
Hazratullah Zazai couldn’t read an off-cutter from Sheldon Cottrell and lobbed an easy one for Evin Lewis in the covers for a duck in the first over, before Afghan’s hero in the Saturday’s win Karim Janat (2) offered a regulation catch to keeper Shai Hope off Cottrell on the last ball of the third over to see the side struggling at 2/12.
But it didn’t make a difference to Gurbaz, who kept stroking the ball nicely to the ropes to build the innings. A third-wicket stand of 32 runs with Ibrahim Zadran (1) and then 50 runs for the fourth wicket with Asghar Afghan (24, 20b, 1×4, 1×6) kept the scoreboard ticking at a good pace.
Gurbaz, who will turn 18 on November 28, struck his second half-century in his seventh T20 international. Known as ‘Mr 360 Gurbaz’ back home in Kabul for hitting match-winning 41-ball 80 (4×4, 8×6) for Mis Ainak Knight against Band-E-Amir Dragon in Shapageenza Cricket League last month, lifted the side with his entertaining knock before being caught by Keemo Paul at the deep point area off Keiron Pollard.
Sunday’s win would be a morale booster for the West Indies ahead of the one-off Test, starting November 27 here. They would also play a four-day first class game against the West Indies, starting Wednesday.
Afghanistan 156/8 in 20 overs (R Gurbaz 79, A Afghan 24, M Nabi 15, N Zadran 14, K Paul 2/26, S Cottrell 2/29, K Williams 2/31) beat West Indies 127/7 in 20 overs (S Hope 52, E Lewis 24, N Haq 3/24).