It’s a dead game as far as the tournament goes but try telling that to India and Afghanistan – both hurting after a series of heartbreaking losses. Now, before they hop on an early flight home, there’s pride and some game time to accrue as they build towards the T20 World Cup.
Surely neither side would’ve thought this game would decide who finishes last in the Super 4s. So much for the general assumption and hype surrounding India vs Pakistan and their “three-match series.”
The clash will be particularly tough for Afghanistan for obvious reasons. Physically, the heat and humidity would’ve taken its toll on the players because they will have to turn up fresh less than 18 hours after their potboiler against Pakistan in Sharjah. That isn’t all. There’s also a matter of trying to lift themselves mentally and emotionally after Wednesday’s heartbreak.
As such, international cricket can be demanding, but their scheduling, in these oppressive conditions, has been anything but kind. But it’s likely Afghanistan, who’ve seen far worse in life and otherwise, will turn up and try to give India a run for their money.
It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that victory by no means is a formality for India. They will still have to turn up and fight for every run, every wicket. It’s a reality check for them even as they grapple with selection challenges and template changes looking ahead to the World Cup. Against a world-class spin attack that can challenge the best in the world, this will be another big test.
Afghanistan have twice lost games they have been in control of and will have another opportunity to fight jangling nerves to close out games. It’s just a question of trying to go a step further. Either way, expect an engaging contest with no clear favourite for this one.
India: LLWWW (win-loss in last five games, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has had two poor outings, especially in the death overs. He’s been tasked with the tough penultimate overs, both against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They’ve costed 19 and 14 respectively. This meant young Arshdeep Singh had six to defend off the final over in both games. Bhuvneshwar will be hoping this slight dip is momentary, for India have the returning Jasprit Bumrah, Harshal Patel, and possibly Deepak Chahar, waiting to have a crack at opponents in Australia. Among them, it’s Bhuvneshwar’s tussle with Chahar that is like-for-like, given they’re both swing bowlers. Bhuvneshwar has the backing of Rohit Sharma and the team management, but there’s nothing like a good performance under your belt to make the world better again.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman seemed to have lost a bit of his sting and X-factor due to form and injury concerns, leading to his T20 stocks taking a dip. But solid performances so far in the Asia Cup have helped him return as one of Afghanistan’s premier spinners alongside Rashid Khan in their first XI. He has so far picked up seven wickets in four games at an economy of 5.12 in the tournament. He’s been so good that Afghanistan have had to keep out Qais Ahmed, because they also have a third spin option in captain Mohammad Nabi. Mujeeb and Afghanistan will hope this surge continues leading into Australia.
Pitch and conditions
Surfaces are slowly losing sheen, and it’s becoming more helpful for the bowlers, especially if they’re prepared to dig it in. However, the same surfaces seem to get just a tad quicker at night, making it easy for the chasing team despite the absence of dew. Only two of the 19 games have been won by the team batting first since January 2020 here. That’s quite a damming statistic for the team losing the toss, because captains invariably choose to bowl first. Weather-wise, it’ll continue to remain hot and muggy, although the temperatures have dipped just a touch in the evening. From early 40s, we’re down to the late 30s (Celsius) at night.
Deepak Chahar was officially drafted into the squad on the eve of the game, replacing the ill Avesh Khan. Chahar has been a regular feature at training, and bowled full-tilt prior to the start of the Sri Lanka game. They could also bring in Dinesh Karthik and Axar Patel for Rishabh Pant Deepak Hooda.
India (probable): 1 KL Rahul, 2 Rohit Sharma (capt), 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suryakumar Yadav, 5 Hardik Pandya, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Axar Patel, 8 Deepak Chahar, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 R Ashwin/Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Arshdeep Singh
Afghanistan will have a tough call, depending on how the players pull up following their game against Pakistan.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), 3 Ibrahim Zadran, 4 Najibullah Zadran, 5 Mohammad Nabi (capt), 6 Karim Janat, 7 Rashid Khan, 8 Azmatullah Omarzai, 9 Naveen-ul-Haq, 10 Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, 11 Fazalhaq Farooqi.
Stats and trivia
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd. All rights reserved