T20 World Cup: India thrash Afghanistan by 66 runs to avoid early exit
ICC Men's T20 World Cup, Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi
India 210-2 (20 overs): Rohit 74 (47), Rahul 69 (48), Pandya 35* (13)
Afghanistan 144-7 (20 overs): Janat 42* (22), Nabi 35 (32); Shami 3-32
India won by 66 runs
India kept their slim hopes of reaching the Men's T20 World Cup semi-finals alive with a crushing 66-run win over Afghanistan.
Facing elimination if they lost a third successive game, India made a stunning statement as Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul shared a majestic opening stand of 140 in Abu Dhabi.
Rohit made 74 off 47 balls and Rahul 69 off 48, before Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya sustained the onslaught to carry India to 210-2, the highest score of the tournament.
Afghanistan never looked capable of chasing 211 and their ambition turned to limiting the severity of defeat to protect their superior net run-rate, which determines who progresses if multiple teams finish equal on the same points.
After slipping to 69-5 in the 12th over, Karim Janat and captain Mohammad Nabi, who scored 42 not out and 35 respectively, helped Afghanistan reach 144-7.
The margin of victory keeps India in a thrilling three-team race with Afghanistan and New Zealand for the second semi-final spot behind Group 2 leaders Pakistan.
New Zealand will go through if they beat Namibia and Afghanistan, regardless of other results.
But if the Black Caps lose either game, India – who face Scotland and Namibia – will qualify if they win both their games and overhaul Afghanistan and New Zealand's run rates.
Scotland out as New Zealand maintain semi-final hopes
After underwhelming efforts against Pakistan and New Zealand, this was exactly how India wanted and expected to bat in this tournament.
Finally, one of the most talented opening pairs in T20 cricket attacked from the start and set a platform for those following to help set a massive total.
One of the greatest ever white-ball batters, Rohit struck the ball all around the ground, hitting eight fours and three sixes.
Rahul, who has finished in the top three run-scorers in the past four Indian Premier League tournaments, mainly targeted the leg side, heaving six fours and two sixes.
Their assured yet destructive approach meant that, after both fell, India could promote Pant and usual finisher Hardik above captain Virat Kohli to continue the carnage.
Pant hit 27 not out off 13 balls and Hardik an even more brutal unbeaten 35 off 13 as they added 63 in just 21 balls in a thrilling end to the innings.
India appoint Dravid as head coach
Shrewd Afghanistan change approach
While perhaps hypercritical, India should have won by 20 or 25 more runs, which could prove costly should the second semi-final spot be decided by net run-rate.
Seamers Hardik and Shardul Thakur both conceded more than 10 runs per over as they were targeted late on, with slow left-armer Ravindra Jadeja bowling only three overs despite taking 1-19.
It slightly undid the fine work of fast bowlers Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah, who took 3-32 and 1-25 respectively, and especially the brilliant off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, playing his first T20 international in four years and claiming a remarkable 2-14.
Afghanistan's shrewdness limited the damage too, even if their net run-rate, boosted by thumping wins over Scotland and Namibia, was more than halved.
Nabi and Janat calmly accumulated in a vital sixth-wicket stand of 57 to keep wickets in hand before hitting out later on, with Janat striking his second six off the final ball of the game.
'We are a positive side' – what they said
India captain Virat Kohli: "We are looking in a very optimistic way at what lies ahead, and we will play this way for sure.
"We knew that we have some kind of chance and we have to focus on that chance instead of thinking of what's gone bad. We are a positive side.
"T20 cricket is a very instinctive game. The top three is more or less set unless something happens like today when the guys batted brilliantly through to over 14 and then our power hitters played brilliantly. Sometimes it doesn't come off but when it does, it shows how we can bat."
Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi: "We wanted to bat second because of the dew and the wicket looked really good for batting.
"In the end there wasn't that much dew, but India batted really well and put our bowlers under pressure. We didn't rotate the strike well, we threw away our wickets and got under pressure."