India will play Afghanistan in the Super Four stage of the Asia Cup on Thursday, September 8th at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. The match is scheduled to begin at 6 pm local time.
Pakistan’s victory over Afghanistan in Sharjah on Tuesday ended the hopes of both teams in the competition and it is now mathematically impossible for either side to make the final.
That makes this match primarily about pride. It also gives a chance for further experimentation to give chance to squad members who have been under-utilised in this competition so far.
India went into the tournament as favourites to lift the trophy for an eighth time and that seemed to be confirmed as they emerged as Group A winners.
However, they have been on the wrong end of two tight finishes on the Super Four stage of the competition and have been Masters of their own Downfall as well, guilty of inconsistent team selection, poor shot selection, and erratic bowling.
Indian captain Rohit Sharma insists there is no need to panic, but with just six weeks to go before the start of the T20I World Cup in Australia, it appears there is still plenty of work that needs to be done.
There will also be concerns about the temperament of this team. This is not the first time that India have flattered to deceive by performing well in warm-up matches, only to crumble under pressure in major tournaments.
Whether this fault can be addressed in time to the World Cup must be open to question.
The Afghans had hopes of winning the competition for the first time after convincingly winning their group with wins over Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. But when they came up against the Sri Lankans again, they found a much improved team and lost out to them in a run chase.
What happened next to them ii the match against Pakistan was even more galling. In a low scoring game in Sharjah, they made 129/6 from their 20 overs and then seemed to be on the verge of victory with their opponents needing still 12 to win off the last seven balls and with their last pair at the wicket.
However, number 10 batter Naseem Shah hit consecutive sixes as his side won with four balls to spare.
That led to ugly scenes after the match as fans of both sides began hitting each other with chairs and they also vandalised the Sharjah stadium.
Head to head record
There have been three previous T20Is between the two countries and India won all three easily by seven wickets – in Gros Islet in 2010 by 23 runs in Colombo two years later, and most recently in the World Cup last year in Abu Dhabi, the margin of victory that time being 66 runs.
In terms of the Asia Cup, this will be their third meeting, the previous two being in the ODI format. India won by eight wickets in Mirpur in 2014, whilst their match in Dubai in 2018 ended in a tie.
The conditions are expected to be hot and humid with little chance of rain. Dew may become a factor in the later stages of the match.
As ever, the pitch in Dubai will offer some early hopes to seamers before levelling out when spinners may come into play. The theme throughout this tournament is that it is better to field first, so winning the toss will be important.
Given that India have yet to lose to Afghanistan in white ball cricket, that trend is unlikely to end in this match, even though there is nothing riding on it.
That does not mean it is without relevance, however. Those chosen will want to prove their credentials ahead of the World Cup and individual performances will be under the microscope with many Indian fans unhappy about how they have performed in the Middle East. Returning home winless from the Super Four competition is not a palatable option.
This may be the last chance for the Indian selectors to experiment as well. They have struggled to find batting and bowling combinations that work so far, but at some stage, they have to find their best XI and stick with it.
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