Can India rediscover their mojo against in-form Afghanistan?

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02 Nov 2021 | 12:29 PM
authorHardik Worah

Can India rediscover their mojo against in-form Afghanistan?

Kohli and Co. are almost out of the semifinal race and will need quite a few things to go in their favour to qualify for the knockouts

Batting average 18.6 | Bowling average 131.5

India have surprisingly looked the most out-of-place team in the ongoing T20 World Cup. The Men in Blue are still struggling to get their opening combination right, while Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have been too vulnerable against spin. One of the cleanest strikers of the ball, Hardik Pandya has operated at a strike rate of just 106.25. What's even more disappointing is that only two of their top-seven batters have a better strike rate than Pandya, which tells you the whole story. What’s more, India have picked up only two wickets in the first two games and both have come off Jasprit Bumrah’s bowling. And, this one might not be too surprising, India have also lost the toss on both occasions. 

Kohli and Co. are more or less out of the semifinal race and will need quite a few things to go in their favour to qualify for the knockouts. They not only have to win their remaining three games by big margins but would also hope that Afghanistan and New Zealand lose at least one of their remaining encounters. Even if that happens, India (-1.609) are way behind Afghanistan (+3.097) and New Zealand (+0.765) in terms of NRR. They will now be up against in-form Afghanistan who have a way better chance of making it through to the knockouts than India. The Mohammad Nabi-led side thumped Scotland and Namibia by big margins and were also very close to beating Pakistan. Afghanistan haven’t defeated India in this format but Kohli and his men will have to get their act together if they want to keep themselves alive in the tournament. 

Spin threat looms over India

It’s a known fact that most of the Indian batters struggle against spinners and they will be up against the best spin-bowling attack of the World Cup. Mujeeb Ur Rahman didn’t play the last game against Namibia and will slot right back into the XI if he is fit and available. Mujeeb hasn’t played much in the IPL, while Afghanistan haven’t played a T20I against India since 2012. The 20-year-old can cause a lot of trouble with the new ball and India’s top-order batters anyway haven’t been amongst runs. Mujeeb took five wickets against Scotland and also returned with impressive figures of 1/14 against Pakistan. Nabi, who himself is a street-smart off-spinner, has used Mujeeb in the first half of the innings, leaving Rashid Khan to take care of the second half.  

Afghanistan have a simple approach, score 150-160 and then let Mujeeb dictate terms with the new ball before unleashing Rashid. Most of the oppositions look to play out Rashid but that won’t be an option if there’s scoreboard pressure in the second innings. Against Pakistan, the leg-spinner was introduced into the attack in the 11th over and kept Afghanistan alive in the contest with key wickets of Mohammad Hafeez and Babar Azam before Karim Janat conceded the game by getting whacked for four sixes in the penultimate over. If you look at the above table, Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav and Rishabh Pant are the only Indian batters who have decent numbers against Rashid, while the likes of Kohli, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul have all been troubled by the ace leg-spinner. And, if Mujeeb is not fit, Nabi could very well use Rashid against the latter three in the powerplay.

Time to play three spinners?

India were annihilated by New Zealand in Dubai on Sunday and the only positive to emerge from that encounter was Pandya bowling a couple of overs. The allrounder has been in horrible form with the bat, and on top of that, he hardly bowls these days because of his back injury. There were a lot of question marks raised over his selection and the team management might have to stick with him throughout the tournament because Indian don’t really have a proper back-up for him in the squad. However, if Pandya can give at least two overs in every game, India will have an option of playing extra spinner. India will play their next game in Abu Dhabi and they could pick either Ravichandran Ashwin or Rahul Chahar in place of Mohammed Shami.

Both Shami and Shardul Thakur are genuine wicket-takers but can also leak a lot of runs. The latter can also bat and that might give him an advantage over Shami. Afghanistan will play at least two left-handers (Hazratullah Zazai and Najibullah Zadran) in their top-seven and that’s where Ashwin could come into play. However, if India decide to stick with Varun Chakaravarthy, Chahar could get a game ahead of Ashwin considering most of the Afghanistan batters are right-handed. The Indian bowling unit averages over 56 in the powerplay this year and will have to find a way to take wickets with the new ball. With Deepak Chahar not in the main squad, India don’t have a genuine new-ball bowler and that’s hurt them in the first two matches.

Afghanistan don’t care about the trend

We will let Anirudh Suresh tell you why Frank Sinatra's 'My Way' should've been Afghanistan’s official theme song for the ongoing T20 World Cup. While the other nations are opting to chase in every single game, Afghanistan have been doing the complete opposite, and it’s working out for them. They could have easily been unbeaten in this tournament if not for that one bad over but Afghanistan still have a serious chance of making it through to the semifinals. India have been far from their best and if Afghanistan can play to their potential, Nabi’s men have what it takes to cause an upset.  

Also read - Eyes on the nets: Focus on power-hitting and middle-order options

However, considering how much India have struggled in the batting department, it won’t come as a huge surprise if Afghanistan opt to bat second for the first time in the tournament. They have the bowling to restrict India to a below-par total and can then plan their run-chase accordingly. Now that Asghar Afghan is done with international cricket, Afghanistan will bring in one of Hashmatullah Shahidi or Usman Ghani. Nabi and his men will be all charged up but don’t be shocked if India turn up all guns blazing on Wednesday (November 3).

Probable XIs

India - Ishan Kishan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli (c), Rishabh Pant (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami/R Ashwin/Rahul Chahar, Varun Chakaravarthy,  Jasprit Bumrah.

Afghanistan - Hazratullah Zazai, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Najibullah Zadran, Usman Ghani, Mohammad Nabi (c), Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Karim Janat/Mujeeb Ur Rahman (subject to fitness), Hamid Hassan, Naveen-ul-Haq.

(All stats till November 1, 2021)

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India vs AfghanistanICC World Twenty20, 2021IndiaAfghanistanRashid KhanMujeeb Ur RahmanIshan KishanRavichandran AshwinRahul Chahar

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