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Dube shines as India cruise to victory in opening T20I | Cricket

In a game where Virat Kohli was unavailable, captain Rohit Sharma got run out off the second ball of the innings and local favourite Shubman Gill went back to the dressing room inside four overs, Shivam Dube (40-ball 60*) and Jitesh Sharma (31 off 20) came to the fore to help India chase down a target of 159 in 17.3 overs in the first T20I at the PCA Stadium in Mohali on Thursday. India’s six-wicket win in biting cold conditions helps them take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.

Shivam Dube and Rinku Singh celebrate their partnership during the 1st T20I against Afghanistan at Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in Mohali (ANI)

Known for their quality spin bowlers, Afghanistan toiled hard to defend the total but couldn’t stop the Indian batters from achieving the target with relative ease. India’s chase got off to a disappointing start due to a mix-up between Sharma and Gill in the very first over of the run chase. Off Fazalhaq Farooqi’s bowling, Rohit hit the ball to mid-off and ran to the non-striker’s end, only to find Gill ball-watching and not responding to the skipper’s call. A livid Rohit let his disappointment known before trudging back to the dressing room.

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Gill went on to hit five fours but couldn’t stay long enough to make amends for his mistake. In the fourth over, he was stumped by Rahmanullah Gurbaz off Mujeeb Ur Rahman. At this stage, Afghanistan seemed to have a firm grip on the proceedings, but Dube and Tilak Varma did not allow the opposition bowlers to dominate during their brisk 44-run partnership for the third wicket.

Dube’s first big shot came in the seventh over against off-spinner Mohammad Nabi, slog-sweeping a ball that was in his arc powerfully over the deep midwicket boundary. In the same over, Tilak charged down the track for an inside-out drive to the right of long off for four. With 14 runs coming off the next over by Naveen-ul-Haq, the momentum was clearly in India’s favour.

It took a stunning catch by Gulbadin Naib to send Tilak back and reduce India to 72/3. In came Jitesh Sharma, who looked in complete control alongside Dube to take India to the cusp of victory. With Sanju Samson on the bench and uncertainty surrounding Ishan Kishan’s position in the team, this was an ideal opportunity for Jitesh to make an impression.

He made it count, smashing a 20-ball 31 that took the pressure off Dube during their partnership of 45 runs for the fourth wicket. With star spinner Rashid Khan ruled out of this series, it was Mujeeb who was the pick of the Afghanistan bowlers. Having dismissed Gill early on, Mujeeb came back to get the better of Jitesh too. In his four overs, he picked two wickets while conceding just 21 runs and squeezing in a maiden.

Dube, however, ensured that he stayed through to the end, notching up his second half-century in T20Is to seal a comfortable victory for India. His innings included five fours and two sixes. Rinku Singh also chipped in with a useful cameo at the end, remaining unbeaten on 16 off nine deliveries.

Earlier, Rohit won the toss and chose to bowl. Afghanistan had a sluggish start with the bat, reaching 50/2 in 8.2 overs with openers Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran back in the dugout. Left-arm spinner Axar Patel was the most successful bowler for India with two wickets in four overs while giving away 23 runs. It was an important outing for Axar after he was omitted for the T20 series in South Africa. While Axar bowled Gurbaz, Dube got rid of Zadran.

If Afghanistan still managed to get 158, they have Nabi and Azmatullah Omarzai to thank. Omarzai, who was sold for 50 lakh to Gujarat Titans in last month’s IPL auction, contributed a 22-ball 29 at No. 3 while Nabi brought all his experience into play by hammering a 27-ball 42.

“A lot of positives, especially with the ball. Wasn’t the easiest of conditions but our spinners bowled particularly well. Shivam Dube, the way Jitesh batted, Tilak as well and obviously Rinku. Want to try a few things in the next game. Want to make the bowlers do a few different things. Like how Washy bowled the 19th today. Keeping those things in mind, we’ll try to do different things,” Rohit said at the post-match presentation. The second T20I will be played in Indore on Sunday.

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