The 10-team World Cup was designed to eliminate the scope of dead rubbers to the maximum possible extent but the upcoming clash between India and Afghanistan in Southampton counters ICC’s objective. The two sides in contention are having a contrasting campaign.
Afghanistan, on the other hand, seem flattened losing all their five games in the competition so far. Worse for them, they have hardly looked like competing, except in the game against Sri Lanka. Their previous game, against England, exemplified their struggles in the tournament during which the game seemed to have ended after Eoin Morgan’s mayhem took the English side to a mammoth total of 397 and the only significance of Afghanistan’s innings was to decide the deficit between the two sides.
After being decimated by England, the writing seems to be on the wall for Afghanistan again before their encounter against the Asian giant, India. The Afghans, however, will take heart from their last game against India - in the 2018 Asia Cup - where the Asghar Afghan-led side gave their all to push for a tie in Dubai.
But the sides contesting in that Asia Cup clash holds vast differences from the ones that will be considered in their upcoming encounter. Afghanistan don’t have the services of their centurion from that game, Mohammad Shahzad who has flown back home under controversial circumstances. Indian side in that game did not field Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, both of whom are expected to feature in the Southampton ODI.
Moreover, the conditions in England have been completely different to that of Dubai and the Afghans have felt completely alienated failing to adjust to the cold weather of England. They have been exposed in various facets of the game, primarily the ones in which the leading sides in the tournament have excelled. Bigger troubles for Afghanistan lies in the fact that the opposing Indian side has ticked all the right boxes. Here is a look at a few of them that can lead to Afghanistan’s undoing again:
Below-par bowling attack:
For starters, Afghanistan’s bowling attack has failed to deliver with the new ball picking just three wickets within the first 10 overs in their five games so far.
The lack of firepower to pick wickets with the new ball may prove to be disastrous against a top-heavy batting line-up like that of India. With Rohit Sharma in the opposition camp, who has been prolific in the tournament having scored two hundreds and a fifty in three games so far, it is necessary for Afghanistan to strike with the new ball. Or there is no better batsman than Rohit to feast on Afghan’s lacklustre bowling attack like he did against Pakistan. His batting average touches intimidatingly high numbers once he gets his eye in and it has only got better in the last two years.
Important to remember, Rohit is yet to be dismissed within the first 10 overs in the tournament and consequently, averages 159.5 in this World Cup at present.
Rashid’s poor form:
Afghanistan’s struggles in the tournament are further aggravated by Rashid Khan’s failure to make an impact this year. The leg-spinner has played a pivotal role in Afghanistan’s rise in white-ball cricket since his debut but a huge dip in his numbers has certainly had an impact on his team’s chances. Going back to the previous game again, Rashid conceded the most expensive bowling figures in the World Cup going for 110 runs in his nine overs.
Meanwhile, the Indian batsmen have continued to be excellent against the spinners with the batsmen comprising their top order - Rohit Sharma (148.2), KL Rahul (57) and Virat Kohli (110) - all averaging well in excess of 50 against the spinners since 2018. Not only Rashid Khan, even the other Afghan spinners will have their task cut out against the Men in Blue.
The Afghans don’t find much respite with their batting either. Batting out 50 overs against England was a moral victory for them after being bowled out in their first four games without making it to the 40th over mark after succumbing to the fast bowlers time and again.
The Southampton track can test them. The fast bowlers have made the new ball count taking a wicket in the first 10 overs in each of the innings played at the venue, except the one where England chased down 212 against West Indies without any fuss. The bowling average here during the first 10 overs has been 31.3, minorly higher than Bristol (30.5) and Nottingham (30.9).
The absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar won’t hurt the Indian side from utilizing the first powerplay with Mohammad Shami raring to go. Owing to the team balance, Shami was unfortunate to warm the bench early on as numbers suggests he is the perfect man to partner Jasprit Bumrah.
With the reputation Afghanistan entered the World Cup, having gained Test status and winning a closely fought ICC Qualifier’s Trophy in 2018, a lot was expected of them, at least to win a game by this stage of the tournament. They blew their best chance, against Sri Lanka and now it seems to be a question of how well they leave behind the ghosts of the defeat against England and prepare to face another dominating side in the tournament.
Off the 27 wickets fallen at the venue in this World Cup, only seven have been taken by the spinners. Afghanistan may want to keep aside their strategy of a spin heavy attack and welcome both Hamid Hassan and Aftab Alam back in the XI, one of them at the cost of Dawlat Zadran. But which spinner will make the way? The struggling Rashid Khan who has been a talisman in their bowling attack or Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who went wicketless in the previous game but was still the cheapest bowler (only 44 runs in 10 overs) in the game?
They may also like to bring Hazratullah Zazai back in the XI for some power-hitting at the top.
Hazratullah Zazai, Gulbadin Naib (c), Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Asghar Afghan, Mohammad Nabi, Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Ikram Ali Khil (wk), Hamid Hassan, Aftab Alam
Indian team has been struck by injury blows off-late but has good enough replacements ready for their injured players. Dinesh Karthik is waiting in the wings for his chance along with Rishabh Pant who has joined the squad replacing Shikhar Dhawan. Vijay Shankar’s injured toe can bring one of them in the XI but if sources are to be believed, Shankar may continue. Mohammed Shami is certain to fill the void created by Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s stretched hamstring.
A rest to anyone seems unlikely given a number of forced changes due to injuries.
Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli (c), Vijay Shankar, MS Dhoni (vc), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Mohammad Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah