It’s a dead game as far as the tournament is concerned, but try saying that to India and Afghanistan – both injured after a heartbreaking series of defeats. Now, before they catch an early flight home, there’s pride and game time to rack up as they prepare for the T20 World Cup.
Surely neither team would have thought that this game would decide who would finish last in the Super 4. So much for the general assumption and hype surrounding India vs Pakistan and their ‘three game streak’.
The confrontation will be particularly hard for Afghanistan for obvious reasons. Physically, the heat and humidity would have taken their toll on the players as they will have to report fresh less than 18 hours after their potboiler against Pakistan in Sharjah. That’s not all. It’s also about trying to recover mentally and emotionally from Wednesday’s heartbreak.
As such, international cricket can be demanding, but their scheduling, under these oppressive conditions, has been anything but kind. But it is likely that Afghanistan, which has seen far worse in life and elsewhere, will come forward and try to give India a hard time.
No one should lose sight that victory is by no means a formality for India. They will still have to show up and fight for every run, every wicket. It’s a reality check for them even as they grapple with selection challenges and role model changes ahead of the World Cup. Against a world-class spin attack that can challenge the best in the world, it will be another big test.
Afghanistan have twice lost games they controlled and will have another chance to fight nerves to close the games. It’s just about trying to go further. Either way, expect an engaging contest with no clear favorite for this one.
India:LLWWW (win-loss in last five games, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Bhuvneshwar Kumar had two bad outings, mostly in the death overs. He was in charge of the difficult penultimate games, against both Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They cost 19 and 14 respectively. This meant youngster Arshdeep Singh had six to defend in the final in both games. Bhuvneshwar hopes this slight dip is momentary as India have the return of Jasprit Bumrah, Harshal Patel and possibly Deepak Chahar, waiting to have a crack against opponents in Australia. Among them, it is Bhuvneshwar’s brawl with Chahar which is similar, given that they are both swing bowlers. Bhuvneshwar has the support of Rohit Sharma and the team management, but nothing like a good performance under his belt to make the world a better place.
Location and conditions
Surfaces slowly lose their luster, and it becomes more useful for bowlers, especially if they’re willing to dig in. However, the same surfaces seem to get a little faster at night, making it easier for the chase team despite the lack of dew. Only two of the 19 games have been won by the team beating first since January 2020 here. That’s a pretty damning stat for the team that loses the toss, as captains invariably choose to play first. As for the weather, it will remain hot and muggy, although the temperatures have dropped slightly in the evening. From the early 40s, we are in the late 30s (Celsius) at night.
Deepak Chahar hasn’t been officially drafted into the team but chances are he could play pending clearance from the Asian Cricket Council if Avesh Khan is dropped from the game. Chahar has been a regular fixture in training and played hard going into the game in Sri Lanka. They might also bring in Dinesh Karthik and Axar Patel for Rishabh Pant Deepak Hooda.
India (likely): 1 KL Rahul, 2 Rohit Sharma (captain), 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suryakumar Yadav, 5 Hardik Pandya, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Axar Patel, 8 Deepak Chahar, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 R Ashwin/ Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 years old Arshdeep Singh
Afghanistan will have a tough decision, depending on how the players recover after their game against Pakistan.
Afghanistan (likely): 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), 3 Ibrahim Zadran, 4 Najibullah Zadran, 5 Mohammad Nabi (capt), 6 Karim Janat, 7 Rashid Khan, 8 Azmatullah Omarzai, 9 Naveen-ul-Haq, 10 Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, 11 Fazalhaq Farooqi.
Statistics and anecdotes
Shashank Kishore is Senior Deputy Editor at ESPNcricinfo
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