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T20 World Cup 2021: India vs Afghanistan Preview

Having lost their first two matches of ICC T20 World Cup 2021, India find themselves in a precarious position. With their backs to the wall, the fifth-placed team of Group 2 are likely to need a couple of favours from Afghanistan.

They might want Afghanistan to beat New Zealand this Sunday, but to extend their semi-final hopes till that match, India will have first have to get the better of Afghanistan in their upcoming match.

The situation could have been different had it been India’s first match, but given how poor they have been in their first two games, coupled with Afghanistan’s two dominant victories against Scotland and Namibia, not many Indian fans will be overwhelmingly optimistic going into this match.

Let us take an in-depth look at both the sides to see who might emerge victoriously in this match:

INDIA IN THE T20 WORLD CUP SO FAR

This particular idiom is very rarely used for the Indian cricket team, but if we were to name even a single positive aspect from the Men in Blue’s gameplay from the first two matches, it would be ‘searching for a needle in a haystack’.

Virat Kohli’s men started their campaign with a match against arch-rivals Pakistan. Any Indo-Pak clash is historic, but in this game, history was indeed created, albeit by the men in green. Pakistan defeated India for the first time in a World Cup match to put an end to India’s domination over the years.

After being asked to bat first by Babar Azam, India lost their openers in the blink of an eye. The champions of the inaugural edition engaged in a game of catch-up from then on, and all they could ultimately muster was 151. The target itself was not poor, but Pakistan’s opening pair of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan made light work of it, as they chased it down without losing a single wicket.

The Indian fans and players, despite an early setback, were hopeful of a turnaround in the second match against New Zealand. However, their performance this time around was even worse, to a point that it is not be far-fetched to call it a no-show.

As if someone programmed a re-run of the previous match, India lost early wickets against the Kiwis as well. The punt to promote Ishan Kishan to open alongside KL Rahul backfired, while the middle-order also struggled to get going. Thanks to a few late hits from Ravindra Jadeja, India reached the score of 110.

New Zealand were dominant in the run chase, ensuring that they not only secure the two points, but also uplift their net run rate (NRR). The Kiwis chased the total down inside 15 overs, and the two wickets which Jasprit Bumrah took was perhaps the only difference from the Pakistan match.

PREDICTED LINEUP AND TACTICS AGAINST AFGHANISTAN

While the inclusion of Ishan Kishan was forced, with Suryakumar Yadav nursing a lower back spasm, the decision play him as an opener and demote Rohit Sharma to number three was not something many could comprehend.

Given Kishan was dismissed for only four runs in the last match, Yadav can make a comeback in this game if he recovers in time. In case he does not, Kishan will retain his place, but it is unlikely that the Indian management will look beyond the opening pair of Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul for the remaining matches.

There is another change the Men in Blue are likely to make given how low in confidence they are. Varun Chakravarthy might have been successful at maintaining a healthy economy rate, but the ‘mystery’ for which he was included in the team has not been visible. He is expected to make way for the experienced Ravichandran Ashwin.

Probable Playing XI: Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli (c), Suryakumar Yadav/Ishan Kishan, Rishabh Pant (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin/Varun Chakaravarthy, Jasprit Bumrah.

AFGHANISTAN IN T20 WORLD CUP SO FAR THIS SEASON

A three-horse race was expected in Group 2, and by the looks of it, we do have a three-horse race at our hands, except that the third horse is Afghanistan, not India. The Afghans have won two of their first three matches, and the run rate aspect of those victories has been particularly impressive.

They were always likely to secure wins against Scotland and Namibia, but Mohammad Nabi’s boys have also ensured that their NRR remains high. Chasing has been the preferred option here in the United Arab Emirates, but in both matches, Afghanistan batted first after winning the toss.

By doing so, Afghanistan ensured that they put up a big score and then wrap up opposition’s innings as early as they can, so as to give their NRR massive boosts in both matches. Courtesy of this plan, and more importantly, the outstanding execution of it, Afghanistan now have a NRR of +3.097 – more than anyone else in Group 2.

Their sole defeat came in the match against Pakistan. Afghanistan scored 147 runs in that match, and had Pakistan cornered for a while. Had it not been for Asif Ali’s fiery knock, Nabi & Co. could have pulled off an upset.

PREDICTED LINEUPS AND TACTICS AGAINST INDIA

Afghanistan will face a happy selection headache prior to this match, if they have all of their players fit and available. Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who has been exceptional with the ball, missed the previous match against Namibia. Skipper Nabi did not provide many details, but simply said that the off-spinner was ‘unfit’.

If he is fit for this game, his inclusion in the playing XI is a no-brainer. The dilemma will be in choosing the bowler to bench. Hamid Hassan, Mujeeb’s replacement in the last match, returned with a three-wicket haul, while he conceded only 9 runs.

It will be very harsh to drop him, while youngster Naveen-ul-Haq has also delivered almost every time his captain has wanted him to. Since Karim Janat has not proven to be useful with the bat and is the only Afghan bowler to open his wickets tally, he is likely to make way for Mujeeb, provided the latter regains his fitness in time.

Probable Playing XI: Hazratullah Zazai, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Najibullah Zadran, Asghar Afghan, Mohammad Nabi (c), Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman/Karim Janat, Hamid Hassan, Naveen-ul-Haq