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India rout Afghanistan to keep semi-final hopes alive

DUBAI : India finally flexed their muscles to crush Afghanistan by 66 runs in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday and keep alive their slim hopes of reaching the Twenty20 World Cup semi-finals.

The 2007 champions' hopes of making the last four hang by a thread following heavy losses to Pakistan and New Zealand in their first two Super 12 group matches.

India's batting finally clicked against Afghanistan, however, as they racked up the tournament's highest total of 210-2 and restricted their opponents to 144-7.

Openers Rohit Sharma (74) and KL Rahul (69) shared a 140-run opening stand to set up their massive score which proved too big a mountain to climb for Afghanistan's modest batting lineup.

Group II leaders Pakistan have booked their semi-final spot and India must win their last two games to have a chance of joining them in the last four.

"The guys batted brilliantly through to over 14 and then our power-hitters came on immediately, right from ball one, and we saw what they can do with the bat," India captain Virat Kohli said.

"We knew that we have some kind of a chance (of making the semis). We spoke in the team meeting before that we have to focus on that chance, rather than thinking what has gone bad."

In a tournament where chasing teams have held a clear advantage, Kohli lost the toss and his team again batted first against a spin-heavy Afghanistan.

India could not capitalise on the powerplay overs in their last two matches but their openers finally fired.

Rohit, adjudged man-of-the-match, raced to a 37-ball fifty and Rahul reached his half-century in the next over needing two balls fewer.

Rohit smashed leg-spinner Rashid Khan, Afghanistan's best hope against the rampant openers, for back-to-back sixes before falling to Karim Janat in the 15th over.

Gulbadin Naib bowled Rahul in the 17th over but with Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant going berserk in the final overs, there was no respite for the Afghans.

Pandya remained unbeaten after a blistering 13-ball 35, while Pant was 27 not out having faced an equal number of balls.

Afghanistan stumbled early in their chase, losing both openers to successive deliveries inside the first 19 balls.

Rahmanullah Gurbaz hit Mohammed Shami (3-32) for back-to-back sixes before offering a skier to Pandya in Ravindra Jadeja's first over.

Once Ravichandran Ashwin removed Gulbadin Naib and Najibullah Zadran to reduce them to 69-5 in the 12th over, Afghanistan were never really in the contest despite Janat's unbeaten 42.

"India batted really well on this pitch and put our bowlers under pressure," Nabi said.

"We didn't rotate strike well in the middle, and we threw away our wickets and got under pressure."

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in Dubai; editing by Ed Osmond)

Source: Reuters

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