COLOMBO: A third fifty on the trot by the current ‘Mr Dependable,’ Virat Kohli and a three-wicket haul by Yuvraj Singh, at a critical stage, enabled India to snuff out an inspirational challenge from Afghanistan by 23 runs at the R Premadasa Stadium on Wednesday night in their opening World T20match.

The minnows punched above their weight all night, but some awful catching by some butter-fingered men undid all their good work, and allowed a flat India to wriggle out.

Put in, India rode on four dropped catches, a fantastic 50 (39b, 4×4, 2×6) by Kohli, who is in the midst of a purple patch, a decent support act by Suresh Raina (38 off 33 balls, six fours), and a final flourish off skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni‘s bat (a four and a six off the last two balls of the innings) to reach 159 for six.

The 2007 T20 world champions then found the going with the ball difficult too, with the Afghan batsmen looking to throw their bats at everything. Mohammad Shahzad’s ‘helicoper shot,’ with his idol MS Dhoni standing behind, especially stood out.

It was Yuvraj, scripting another chapter in his heroic comeback after overcoming a rare form of cancer, who derailed the opposition chase, as he dismissed Karim Sadiq and Asghar Stanikzai off consecutive deliveries in the 12th over.

Mohammad Nabi, perhaps atoning for the two catches that he dropped, then kept the fight alive with a 17-ball 31 (2×6, 2×4) but once he perished to R Ashwin, the game was more or less in India’s bag. L Balaji finished off things with a three-wicket haul.

Earlier, the Indian batsmen, with the exception of Kohli, threatened to sizzle only to fizzle out. In a batting performance that, as is familiar these days, depended largely on Kohli, and which benefitted immensely from the Afghan fielders’ largesse, India just about managed to find a respectable total.

Kohli was his usual self, stroking the ball beautifully down the ground and through the covers, but he too was helped by a dropped chance. In fact, poor fielding nullified a superb bowling performance by the Afghan bowlers.

The chief culprit was off-spinner Mohammad Nabi, who started the ‘farce’ by letting go of a caught-and-bowled chance off Yuvraj in the 10th over. Luckily, that didn’t cost much, as Yuvi was out soon after, but Nabi’s second slip was unpardonable.

He not only dropped Kohli, on 33 then, on the wide long-on boundary off Karim Sadiq in the 13th over, but let it slip off his palms for a six. The third ‘gift’ was reserved for Raina, who was grassed by Samiullah Shenwari off his own bowling on 19. Raina was later dropped by the 12th man Izzatullah Dawlatzai too, who joined the party by fumbling a leading edge off Shenwari.

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