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A new era with old guards - India host Afghanistan with renewed hope

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Last updated on 10 Jan 2024 | 01:03 PM
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A new era with old guards - India host Afghanistan with renewed hope

Both Rohit and Kohli are two undisputed greats, but do they warrant spots in the T20 XI?

Adelaide 2022. When Alex Hales and Jos Buttler mauled the Indian bowlers to hand a 10-wicket loss in the T20 World Cup semi-final, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli had a somber look on their faces. It was again the “so near yet so far” narrative for the duo. 

Face hidden under the cap - the duo almost saw the last of their appearances in the shortest format of the game. 

For the next year, the Indian selectors made all the right choices. From picking Yashasvi Jaiswal to Tilak Varma, from grooming Jitesh Sharma to bringing back Sanju Samson. However, all it took was an injury to regular skipper Hardik Pandya to throw away all the plans into the bin and go back to square one.

Both Rohit and Kohli are two undisputed greats of the game who still have a lot to offer to Indian cricket - but do they warrant spots in the T20 XI as India prepare for the World Cup three months down the line?

More importantly, how would the coaching management look into the eyes of Tilak and Jaiswal in case either of them has to sit out to accommodate the duo? There is a question mark on Shubman Gill’s place too. Lest you forget - Gill managed 890 runs @ 59.33 in IPL 2023. 

The Afghanistan series, starting on Thursday at the IS Bindra Stadium in Mohali, will provide a semi-decent answer to the imposing narrative, but nothing could be farther from business till the IPL ends and India set on a flight to New York for the historic event. 

Things to Watch out for

Which version of Rohit Sharma will turn up?

There has never been a T20 World Cup that Rohit has taken by storm. There has never been an IPL since 2017 in which the Indian skipper has been an out-and-out performer either. While the legacy of his IPL wins can never be understated, the Mumbaikar needs to punch way above his weight to make him a viable T20 prospect.

So much has already been written about how the duo’s inclusion will prove costly for the likes of Gill or Jaiswal, but now that a decision has been taken, there’s little point in holding on to that now.

Looking forward, one can believe that Rohit and Kohli bring their intent-version to the table - Rohit upping his powerplay game, just like he did in the ODIs, and Kohli putting his feet down to take on the spinners. Essentially, we need both batters to justify their places in the side - but with Kohli missing the first T20I due to personal reasons, things look far from settled. 

A watershed moment in the history of Afghanistan cricket

They may have been playing Sri Lanka and Pakistan regularly, but this is going to be the biggest bilateral series for Afghanistan as a cricketing nation. Traveling to India and playing a three-match series as a prelude to the ICC T20 World Cup is a validation of how far they have come as a cricketing nation. 

It is a shame that they won’t have the services of Rashid Khan for the historic series, for the spinner continues to recover from a lower-back surgery. However, they still have Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Mohammad Nabi, Noor Ahmad, Qais Ahmad, and Sharafuddin Ashraf to take care of the spin department. 

Over the years, Afghanistan have proven that they are no slouch in the shortest version of the game. If anyone remembers their performance in the ODI World Cup a couple of months ago, their ability to create ripples has always been a pronounced factor. India have to be careful and will have to plot their ways accordingly. 

Ground Details

The IS Bindra Stadium in Mohali has hosted 40 T20s since the dawn of 2020, with the batters scoring at a run rate of 8.6. The average first innings score at the venue is 169, with the first-innings winning score being 190. 

So no score is safe here - with so much dew around, it is only prudent that the teams use an aggressive approach to post a big total on board.

Pacers have been the dominant species at this venue, having accounted for 256 wickets (58.9%) as compared to 41.1% of wickets taken by spinners. 

Tactical Insights

-> Whenever pacers bowled very wide to Yashasvi Jaiswal, he has struggled to get going, being dismissed four times. That is a channel Fazalhaq Farooqi and Naveen-ul-Haq can target in order to trouble the Indian opener.

-> Since 2022, Rohit Sharma has averaged 15.00 against off-spinners in all T20s. Nabi has a good match-up against him in T20s, conceding just 17 off 18 balls with one dismissal. AFG might look to bowl Nabi early to get the prized scalp of the Indian skipper. 

Team news and likely XIs

Virat Kohli will miss the first T20I due to personal reasons. Rahul Dravid has confirmed that Rohit Sharma and Yashasvi Jaiswal will open the batting for India.

India likely XI: Rohit Sharma (Capt), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Tilak Varma, Rinku Singh, Jitesh Sharma (wk), Axar Patel, Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan, Kuldeep Yadav, Mukesh Kumar

For Afghanistan, Rashid Khan has already been ruled out of the squad for the series. 

Afghanistan Likely XI: Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Ibrahim Zadran (Capt), Azmatullah Omarzai, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Karim Janat, Mujeeb-ur-Rahman,, Qais Ahmad, Naveen-ul-Haq, Fazalhaq Farooqi

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