In the first T20 against the West Indies on Thursday, young Afghanistan all-rounder Karim Janat was warming the benches, waiting for his turn to field as a substitute, but his turn did not come that day. Two days later, there was a spring in his step when he found his name in the playing XI for the second game against the Caribbean side on Saturday. Janat, 21, showed his prowess with both bat and ball to give the home side a reason to smile for the first time here, fashioning Afghanistan's emphatic 41-run win to level the three-match Twenty20 series one-all.
Janat, who hails from Kabul, came in for Fareed Ahmad. He first stroked 18-ball 26 with the help of five fours to help the side post a challenging 147/7 while batting first after winning the toss, and then bowled superbly to take 5/11, his career best, to restrict the Islanders to 106/8. His previous best in a T20 game was 3/24.
After a 0-3 mauling in the ODI series and a 30-run loss in the opening tie of the T20 series on Thursday, it was a must-win game for Afghanistan on their adopted home ground at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium here where they had won just a practice game in the last 20 days or so in the state capital.
West Indies started cautiously with Evin Lewis and Brandon King smashing a four each off Naveen-ul-Haq in the second over of their innings before Haq knocked out King's middle stump with an off-cutter in the fourth over. But it was Janat, who brought the biggest change in Afghanistan's fortunes, taking West Indies wickets at regular intervals, mixing his deliveries with pace and short ones too on a surface, which seemed to be helping the bowlers gain pace.
It was Janat all over as the giant screen inside the stadium kept flashing 'Killer Janat' and 'Fifer Janat' every time with a huge crowd rooting for him. In fact, West Indies needed 10.67 runs per over at the half-way stage and all hopes rested on skipper Kieron Pollard, but before the big-hitting Caribbean could launch the onslaught Janat had him trapped in front of the wicket with a quicker one bowled from wide of crease.
This wicket ended the West Indies resistance as they could hardly cross the 100-run mark thereafter. Evin Lewis (12), Shimron Hetmyer (11), Sherfane Rutherford (6) and Keemo Paul (11) were Janat's other victims. Rashid Khan, Gulbadin Naib and Haq shared the remaining three wickets among them.
It was a superb start to the Afghanistan innings when Rashid Khan chose to bat first on a placid turf after winning the toss. Hazratullah Zazai (26, 15b, x34, 1x6) and Rahmanullah Gurbaz (15, 12b, 2x4) stitched together 41 runs for the opening wicket off the first 24 deliveries.
Two quick wickets in the fifth over with Zazai and Gurbaz getting out off successive deliveries of Kesrick Williams didn't make much of a difference and Janat kept stroking the ball nicely. But Jason Holder, despite being hit for 21 runs in his first two overs, bounced back and took two wickets for just three runs to put the brakes on Afghan's scoring.
They were 104/6 in 16 overs at one stage but an unbeaten 24-ball 20 by Najibullah Zadran and Gulbadin Naib's 24, which came off 18 balls with the help of two fours and a six, enabled the side to come close to the 150-run mark. Holder and Paul took two wickets each, but Williams remained the pick of the bowlers, bagging 3/23.
"I learnt a lot even while sitting on the benches as the 12th man in the opening game. I had a plan and I played to it exactly today. While batting, I got an idea of what was the right line and length. It helped me a lot when I came on to bowl," an elated Janat said after being named man-of-the-match. "On a surface like this, change of pace is a good weapon to have," he added.
Pollard, on the other hand, held a slow start in the first Powerplay responsible for the Windies' loss. "We didn't get a good start in the Powerplay, and we lost wickets every time we were trying to be aggressive. With the series level at 1,-1 it's going to be virtual final on Sunday, and I am hopeful of playing well to win this series too," Pollard said.
The final match of the series would be played on Sunday at 7.00 p.m.
Afghanistan 147/7 in 20 overs (K Janat 26, H Zazai 26, G Naib 24, N Zadran 20, K Williams 3/23, J Holder 2/23, K Paul 2/28) beat West Indies 106/8 (D Ramdin 24, K Janat 5/11).