Pooran, Chase give West Indies first ODI series win since 2014
West Indies 247 for 9 (Pooran 67, Lewis 54, Naveen-ul-Haq 3-60) beat Afghanistan 200 (Najibullah 56, Rahmat 33, Cottrell 3-29, Chase 3-30, Hayden Walsh 3-36) by 47 runs
West Indies overcame a spirited Afghanistan fight fuelled by Najibullah Zadran's half-century to win their first ODI series since August 2014. The key architects of their win in the second ODI were Nicholas Pooran and Roston Chase - the former leading an excellent lower-order rally to make 67 while the off-spinning allrounder nicked out Afghanistan's top order in a superb spell of 3 for 30 to put the brakes, eventually resulting in a 47-run win.
Afghanistan would rue a number of opportunities, not least of all the double-strike following a sixth-wicket stand of 68 between Najibullah and Mohammad Nabi. Then, Sheldon Cottrell had Najibullah nicking behind for 56 while attempting a slash to turn the scales. Needing 70 off 66 at that stage, legspinner Hayden Walsh had Nabi lbw next ball to extinguish any hopes of an Afghanistan rearguard. Walsh, who was only introduced in the 29th over, seemingly because Afghanistan had two set left-handers, finished with 3 for 36, including the final wicket to seal victory when Sharafuddin Ashraf holed out to Shimron Hetmyer at deep midwicket.
The match was a throwback in a sense to the '90s. West Indies went in with a slow and steady approach, looking to launch later. The risk with that approach is it puts immense pressure on the lower order to score quickly from the outset. On challenging surfaces, like the one at the Ekana Stadium where Afghanistan played four spinners and West Indies two, it becomes a bigger challenge. Fortunately, West Indies found a savior in Pooran, who negotiated Rashid Khan's threat with great caution, before taking apart the bowlers in the death, putting a high value on risk-free shots initially before seamlessly bringing out the big hits, the last 10 overs producing 86 runs to lift West Indies to 247 for 9.
In the chase, Afghanistan stuttered, recovered and then again played rash shots, like the one Hazratullah Zazai did to hole out at long-on and Asghar Afghan, the experienced former captain, heaving one to deep midwicket when the need of the hour was consolidation. Rahmat Shah looked in control, and overcame a short-ball barrage from Jason Holder to keep the runs chugging along. While he wasn't quite as comfortable while pulling or hooking, his cuts and punches square of the wicket were a visual treat, but his dismissal against the run of play threatened to blow the lid off. Sent back after a terrible mix-up with Alikhil, he was inches short of the crease when Pollard swooped in from mid-on to fire a throw to Alzarri Joseph, who removed the bails at the non-striker's end.
Alikhil and Najibullah hung in there, the escalating asking rate that went past six, not a bother, and with the knowledge that Nabi was still to come, kept picking the ones and twos looking to take the game deep. Najibullah's half-century was an innings of two contrasts - watchful early on until he decided he had to take on the train of spin, by reverse sweeping his way, sometimes even against the turn, to boundaries. He reached his half-century by drilling Holder through extra cover and swatted him over long-on in the same over, to give West Indies a brief flutter until the 38th over, before he fell.
As comprehensive as the win seemed in the end, it wouldn't tell you the entire story. West Indies struggled with the bat, strangulated by a succession of fast darts and fizzy turn. They played out as many as 143 dots till the 36th over, before deciding the only way out was to attack. It could've well cost them if not for Pooran's rescue act. Early on, Shai Hope and Ewin Lewis decided to take it slow and set a launchpad by accumulating 98 in 24.4 overs for the first wicket. Naveen-ul-Haq, the only seamer in the XI, struggled for lengths and was smacked for four boundaries by Hope in his first two overs, until Rashid turned to spin. A pulsating start soon turned into a solid one, before the innings failed to move out of second gear.
From time-to-time, Lewis produced the odd boundary. He sits on his left leg and looks to stay back, and when the spinners erred, it helped him take full toll by either pulling or sweeping. Hope, meanwhile, got bogged down. After motoring to 18 off 18, he managed all off 13 off his next 33 deliveries against Afghanistan's spinners. However, he was to contend with more spin, which brought more caution, which eventually had him when Rashid snuck past his bat with a ripping googly to trap him lbw.
Lewis was out in the next over, leaving Chase and Hetmyer with a steep task. Hetmyer played an uncharacteristic knock, shelving the slogs and the temptation to look for release shots when things didn't go his way, but that was only until he got to 34. After lofting Nabi inside-out over long-off for six, he flat-batted the next ball straight to long-on to once again waste another opportunity. That it came off the last ball of Nabi's spell made it that much more unacceptable from West Indies' point of view.
Pollard walked in needing to stay alive till the death overs, but he was foxed by left-arm spinner Sharafuddin Ashraf, reaching out to lob a simple return catch. On many other nights, it could've led to a proper meltdown and the difference between victory and defeat. Fortunately, West Indies had Pooran's lower order rally to thank for lifting them to a total that proved just beyond Afghanistan's reach.