“I don’t think we were brave enough with bat or ball,” skipper Virat Kohli admitted after India slipped to their second defeat on the trot. It was unusual to hear that from a captain who personifies courage and fearlessness.
There is nearly never a Kohli interaction that does not have “fearless cricket” or “intent” pronounced at least once. Or the view “we don’t worry about who the opposition is” endorsed at least once. These aren’t whimsical jargon or rhetorics he loves using. India, under him, have been fearless, no doubt. They have defeated every team they have faced in every format. So, strange it was indeed to hear that statement from someone like him.
But equally strange is the territory India find themselves in, with their chances to qualify further hanging by a thread. Once touted as the hot-favourites to lift the trophy, they are derailed and suddenly reduced to being reliant on other results and mathematical equations to go through.
The team entered into the event perhaps more primed than any other, with each one their squad members an active participant of the IPL at these venues. But as it stands, even three victories will not suffice for India, who would pray that Afghanistan first loses to them by a hefty margin and topples New Zealand grandly.
Grand was precisely how New Zealand’s triumph was against India, who got everything wrong that night. From a new-look opening pair to reckless shot selection to insipid bowling, there is not a thing that India could look back and smile at.
Kohli tore apart a journalist after India’s 10-wicket drubbing against Pakistan on being asked if the management made a mistake not playing the in-form Ishan Kishan in place Rohit Sharma. Even as India did not drop the latter from the team, he was dropped in a sense nonetheless – the New Zealand fixture was only the second time since 2013 he did not open the innings.
In India’s defence, they had to counter Trent Boult’s left-arm threat after that genre of bowling dented them against Pakistan. But the move backfired. Also, the coin has not been Kohli’s greatest friend, and in a tournament where tosses have sealed the fate of matches multiple times, losing two in a row has only left India more frustrated. The team had stellar buildup, defeating England and Australia in warmups in a span of 48 hours, but on both occasions, they were chasing.
After being rocked early against Pakistan, the intent of Indian batters against New Zealand was clear. But going hard always comes with an asterisk of collapse, which India endured the other day, settling for 110/7, and failing to score even a single boundary for 10 overs.
With the ball, India have managed two wickets in as many games, all told. Then, debates around Hardik Pandya’s inclusion still remain. Kohli, the batter, has himself been unable to fire for since long. In short, India have things to worry about. Perhaps as many as they have not simultaneously in a long time.
Amidst the many worries, they come against Afghanistan, a team that has made the phrase “punching above the weight” dissociable with them. That Afghanistan did not need to take the route of the qualifiers to enter the main draw in itself speaks for the giant strides they have taken in international cricket.
In the main draw, they have convincingly outplayed Scotland and Namibia and ran Pakistan close before being at the receiving end of an Asif Ali onslaught. Hazratullah Zazai and Mohammad Shahzad have provided them glitzy starts, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Najibullah Zadran and Gulbadin Naib have delivered the goods in the middle-order, while the envious trio of spinners Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman can script a rout of any team any day.
Afghanistan often end up on the receiving end due to their inability to fire in unison. With the kind of form they have shown thus far, a qualification might not be entirely impossible if they manage to do that a couple of times in the coming week, starting against India.
Pitch and conditions
Chase and win. It’s been that simple this tournament, with seven out of 10 games at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium being won by the chasing teams. Overall, in 19 Super12 games thus far, 14 times the chasers have won. However, Afghanistan have won both their games while defending (by 130 runs against Scotland and by 62 runs against Namibia). It will be interesting to see what Nabi would choose, if he calls correctly, which is quite likely to happen given Kohli’s (un)luck.
Playing combinations for IND vs AFG
It is unlikely India will continue with the opening combination of the previous game. Suryakumar Yadav, who missed the last game with a back spasm, is fit for selection. India have continued to keep R Ashwin and Rahul Chahar on the benches; however, they did slot in Shardul Thakur at Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s expense against New Zealand.
Predicted XI: Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan, Virat Kohli (c ), Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Varun Chakravarthy, Jasprit Bumrah
Asghar Afghan, who announced his retirement and played his last fixture against Namibia, will not play further, with Sharafuddin Ashraf named his replacement. However, Usman Ghani or Hashmatullah Shahidi are the probable contenders to fill in for him. Hamid Hassan made his comeback after half a decade into the national team as Afghanistan were tied by Mujeeb ur Rahman’s injury. If fit, he will walk straight into the XI.
Predicted XI: Hazratullah Zazai, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Hashmatullah Shahidi/Usman Ghani, Mohammad Nabi (c), Najibullah Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Karim Janat, Naveen-ul-Haq, Hamid Hassan
IND vs AFG Head-to-head
Matches- 2, India – 2, Afghanistan– 0, Tied- 0
In T20 World Cups
Matches- 2, India – 2, Afghanistan– 0, Tied- 0
IND vs AFG Broadcast Details
Match Timings – 07:30 PM IST
TV – Star Sports Network
Live Streaming – Disney+Hotstar
Source: The source of this content is our cricket news platform Crictracker.
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