Desperate times call for desperate measures. And the utter desperation of finding their missing mojo seemed immense in the Indian camp during their optional training session on Tuesday at the ICC Academy on the eve of their must-win encounter against Afghanistan.
India are only mathematically alive in this ongoing T20 World Cup. The humiliating defeats against Pakistan and New Zealand in their previous two encounters have put Virat Kohli & Co. on the brink of an unexpected early exit from the competition. With no points on the board and a Net Run Rate of -1.609, they need a lot of permutations and combinations to go in their favour apart from winning their remaining three matches with huge margins in order to get a backdoor entry into the semis from Group 2.
And the swim against the tide starts against Afghanistan -- a team which came tantalisingly close to beat India in their last two meetings -- one in the 50-over World Cup in 2019 at Southampton and the other game in the 2018 Asia Cup (ODI version) in Dubai, which ended with a tie.
The vulnerability in the batting line-up while setting a target has been the biggest concern for India in this T20 World Cup. Especially the lack of intent of utilising the power-play hurt their chances badly in the two previous matches. Hence, a lot of emphasis was put on aggressive shot-making when the likes of Kohli and Rohit Sharma batted in the nets on Tuesday.
Barring KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant, most of the other first-choice batters attended the training in a quest of getting into the groove against a dangerous T20 side like Afghanistan.
Batting coach Vikram Rathour spent a lot of time with the boys, giving them throwdowns before they head to the nets for a hit. Even there Rathour, who has recently applied for another tenure with the Indian team, looked proactive while giving his inputs to the batsmen.
The frontline bowlers like Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Varun Chakaravarthy and Ravichandran Ashwin gave the session a miss. As a result, the likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Rahul Chahar, Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar had to chip in with some extra effort in order to feed the batters with some quality bowling.
Power-hitting was clearly the priority. Especially against spinners, batters were trying to use their feet more, anticipating spin-friendly conditions in Abu Dhabi. Jadeja, while batting, seemed the most accomplished hitter against slow bowlers.
Nevertheless, the session also saw an audition for a middle-order slot between Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav, who missed the New Zealand game due to a back spasm.
Physio Nitin Patel, strength and conditioning coach Nick Webb and assistant trainer Soham Desai gave extra attention to monitor Yadav's fitness. The Mumbai middle-order batter first started things off with light jogging and then underwent some extended fitness drills before padding up for a batting session under the watchful eyes of mentor MS Dhoni and coach Ravi Shastri.
In one of the other two nets Kishan was having a hit, who looked in a decent touch, especially against spinners with his cross-batted slog-sweeps.
Looking at the form of Pandya, don't be surprised if India decide to play both Yadav and Kishan against Rashid Khan and Co. Both are attacking players against slow bowling and their team is in search of some aggression from the batters in the middle overs.
On the bowling front, India may opt to play three frontline spinners against the Afghans and many believe giving a rest to Ashwin on the eve of the match can be an indication to this strategy. If this does happen, out of form Shami is the most likely candidate to sit out.