India deny Afghanistan dream start
India comfortably beat Afghanistan to get their ICC World Twenty20 campaign off to a winning start at the Beausejour Stadium in St Lucia.
India won by seven wickets after captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni put the tournament qualifiers into bat and restricted them to 115 for eight. Afghanistan opener Noor Ali top-scored with 50.
India had no problems reaching their target, needing just 14.5 overs to notch 116 for three, with Twenty20 international debutant Murali Vijay, who replaced the injured Virender Sehwag for the tournament, top-scoring with 48.
India's Ashish Nehra earned the man of the match award after taking 3-19 having removed the Afghanistan top order with some early seam bowling.
Ali's only real ally at the crease was Ashgar Stanikzai, their partnership producing 68 in 66 balls to move Afghanistan to 97 before the opener was out two balls after reaching his fifty, caught by Dhoni off Nehra with 16.4 overs bowled.
Afghanistan added only 18 more runs as Stanikzai went in the next over for 30 and with him their last chance of achieving a decent total.
Afghanistan's response with the ball began badly as Dawlat Ahmadzai gave up 16 runs off the opening over, although the bowler got the first wicket with the score on 19 as Gautam Gambhir was caught at point by Mohammad Nabi.
Vijay and Suresh Raina put on 27 in 19 balls with Raina contributing 18 before he was lbw to Samiullah Shinwari in the sixth over with India at 46 for two.
Vijay and Yuvraj Singh, who finished unbeaten on 23, continued to run down their target until Hamid Hassan had Vijay caught by Shahpoor Zadran in the 13th over, his innings occupying 46 balls with India 101 for three.
The breakthrough did not stop India's momentum as the incoming Dhoni quickly knocked off the remaining 15 runs in six balls, including two sixes.
Indian captain Dhoni was delighted his team had hit the ground running but also paid tribute to the Afghanistan performance.
“It's important to win, obviously, and especially against teams like Afghanistan, UAE, Kenya and all because you're expected to win and that puts you under more pressure,” Dhoni said.
“So I'm really happy with the win and also to see the kind of cricket that they played. They batted really well after losing the first three wickets, their middle order was really good.
“And they were not letting anything go when their were fielding and bowling and it is a really good sign to see them play the way they did.”
Dhoni's opposite number Nowroz Mangal said his team would take some valuable lessons from their first big-tournament experience.
“First of all, this is a big day for us, qualifying for and participating in the World Cup,” Mangal said through a translator. “This India team is the best team in the world, you can see that, but unfortunately we lost the toss and the ball was seaming a little bit in the morning.
“If we want to play the big teams more we have to learn to play the international game. We want more international games.”