Navigating their way through some extreme pressure moments in their tournament opener, India will be eyeing a near perfect game against a sprightly Afghanistan in the ODI World Cup in New Delhi on Wednesday. As pointed out by skipper Rohit Sharma, India’s biggest challenge over the course of the league stage will be to quickly adapt to the conditions in nine different venues. After a slow and spinning track at Chepauk, a belter of a surface is expected at the Feroz Shah Kotla, where more than 700 runs were plundered in a high-scoring affair between South Africa and Sri Lanka last week.
With Shubman Gill ruled out of the game due to dengue, Ishan Kishan will get another opportunity at the top of the order alongside Rohit.
Kishan and Shreyas Iyer’s questionable shot selection against Australia contributed to India’s disastrous start and they both would be wiser going into the Afghanistan game.
If Gill is not able to regain full fitness by the Pakistan game three days later, runs on Wednesday will do Kishan a lot of good in his debut ODI World Cup campaign.
Comparatively, facing the Afghan attack upfront would be easier than negotiating the likes of Josh Hazlewood and Mithell Starc.
The smaller dimensions of the ground, where 31 sixes were hammered in the previous game, would also aid strokeplay. The main square was relaid ahead of the World Cup and that has clearly changed the nature of the surface.
The game will also be a homecoming for chase master Virat Kohli who reinforced his credentials batting alongside K L Rahul in Chennai on Sunday night.
Batting in front of pavilion named after him, Kohli will be expected to give his fans another night to remember.
Rahul has been the story of India’s batting since Asia Cup last month. Despite criticism, the team management showed unwavering faith in him and he has repaid that and how. He made a fine hundred against Pakistan in his comeback and on Sunday, emerged unscathed in another high pressure situation.
In the bowling department, India could be forced to make a change considering the conditions. India ticked all boxes on the bowling front against Australia and got as many as six wickets in the middle overs. If India don’t go in with three spinners, then Mohammad Shami can make way for R Ashwin who had a decent outing in Chennai. That could be the only change in the playing eleven.
Coming from a heavy loss against Bangladesh, Afghanistan will be aiming to turn things around in Delhi.
With a sizeable number of Afghans residing in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, one can expect good support for Hashmatullah Shahidi and his men.
Bowling, mainly spinners, has been been Afghanistan’s strong suit over the years and if they are to make an impact in this World Cup, their batters too must step.
Opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz seems to the only one in top form. An effort of 156 all out against Bangladesh was not acceptable and the batters will be looking for immediate course correction. Spinner Mujeeb Zadran usually opens the bowling alongside a pacer while trump card Rashid Khan comes into the attack after the powerplay.
While the teams are forced to take chances against Rashid in the shortest format, batters have time to play him without risk in ODIs. That was evident in the game in Dharamsala where Bangladesh batters collected 48 runs from his nine overs and did not concede a wicket.
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Ishan Kishan, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami, Suryakumar Yadav, Shubman Gill, Shardul Thakur.
Afghanistan: Hashmatullah Shahidi (captain), Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Ibrahim Zadran, Riaz Hassan, Rahmat Shah, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Ikram Alikhil, Azmatullah Omarzai, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Noor Ahmad, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Abdul Rahman, Naveen ul Haq.
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