After having suffered a 3-0 whitewash in the One-Day International (ODI) series against West Indies, Afghanistan look for a fresh start in the shortest format, commencing with the first T20 International (T20I) at the Ekana Cricket Stadium, Lucknow. The two teams have clashed four times in T20Is and Afghanistan have won just one, while the Windies have come out on top on the remaining three occasions.
While Kieron Pollard’s era as new West Indies limited-overs captain got off to a good start, he will want to keep the momentum going in the T20Is as well, where West Indies pride themselves on being two-time T20 World Cup winners. There will be huge expectations on the Windies in the T20 mega event, but whether they’ll live up to that is to be seen. The 2019 Caribbean Premier League (CPL) has unearthed a few new talents like Brandon King, Hayden Walsh, while someone like Lendl Simmons has come back into the side after an impressive show in the tournament.
Their opponents Afghanistan are a fine T20 side and the Pollard-led team cannot take them for granted despite how easily they were brushed aside in the 50-over format. However, the forms of a couple of star players is a worry for Afghanistan. Mohammad Nabi, who is the most experienced player in the Afghanistan set-up has had a forgettable year when it comes to bowling in the middle-overs (7-15) – a phase where he bowls a lot. He has the worst balls per wicket in the middle phase in T20s this year.
While skipper Rashid Khan has had a forgettable year when it comes to the ODI format, he has not done too badly in T20s, especially in India. His performances in the Shpageeza T20 Cricket League was well below par (two wickets at 72 balls per wicket), but in India, he has been among the best. He averages 16.1 per wicket, has an economy rate a little over six and strikes every 15.4 deliveries in the T20 matches he has played in India this year.
Afghanistan and West Indies however seem to have contrasting approaches with the bat across different phases of play. While the Afghans have been at their attacking best at the start and at the death, the West Indies however manage to get some momentum only at the death, while they have a stop-start approach in the other two phases.
While Nabi and Rashid have proven to be quality spinners over the years, there is little doubt that Walsh too has a great future ahead. After bagging 22 wickets at a strike-rate of 9.1 in the CPL, Walsh will hope to take the internationals by storm too. He had a below par start in the 50-over format, but he could be quite a handful in his maiden T20I series with the West Indies.
There might be a tight tussle to see who opens for West Indies. Will it be the two highest scorers of 2019 CPL – King and Simmons – or will Evin Lewis open with one of the two? It’s a good headache to have for the Windies. Given that this is the first game of the series, it might be Lewis and Simmons opening, while King might be given a look-in in the second or third match. Shimron Hetmyer and Pollard add firepower to the middle-order and at the end, Windies will have the services of Sherfane Rutherford or Fabian Allen to finish the job.
Windies have been dealt with a blow following Pooran’s involvement in ball tampering in the third ODI. As a result, he has been suspended for four T20I matches. Denesh Ramdin, who last played a T20I in November 2018 will fill Pooran’s place in the XI as a result.
Likely XI: Evin Lewis, Lendl Simmons, Shimron Hetmyer, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Kieron Pollard (c), Sherfane Rutherford, Fabian Allen, Hayden Walsh, Sheldon Cottrell, Alzarri Joseph, Kesrick Williams
As far as Afghanistan are concerned, wicketkeeper Rahmatullah Gurbaz is most likely to be given the nod ahead of the teenage Ibrahim Zadran and will open with Hazratullah Zazai, who will look to add another significant score after scoring a fifty in the final ODI. The likes of Najibullah Zadran – strike-rate of 200-plus in six outings in the Shpageeza T20 Cricket League – and also Javed Ahmadi, who in the same tournament scored 351 runs at 58.50 will be the backbone of Afghanistan’s batting line-up.
Afghanistan have quite a handful of bowlers to pick from. Other than Rashid, Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, they might go for the all-round option of Gulbadin Naib along with fast bowler Sayed Shirzad or Karim Janat, who did not make the XI in the ODIs but can clock over 140 kmph consistently. Janat could be a great option in the initial stages of the innings when there will be something for the fast bowlers.
Likely XI: Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Javed Ahmadi, Najibullah Zadran, Asghar Afghan, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Rashid Khan (c), Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Sayed Shirzad/Karim Janat
It is surely a series both teams would not want to lose, but regardless of the result, it will give them an opportunity to reassess the squad in the build-up to the T20 World Cup in Australia next year. The sooner teams get a hang of their best XI, the better it will be going forward.