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Chance for India to try out a few things at the World Cup

India are flying high, their unbeaten record so far in the World Cup giving them wings to be ambitious
India's Rishabh Pant, left, talks to teammate Rohit Sharma during a training session ahead of their Cricket World Cup match against Afghanistan at the Hampshire Bowl in Southampton, England, on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

TT Bureau   |   Calcutta   |   Published 21.06.19, 10:16 PM

On paper, it looks an absolute mismatch. The India-Afghanistan World Cup match, in Southampton, could be boringly one-sided.

But then, not all stories adhere to the script when it comes to sporting contests.

India are flying high, their unbeaten record so far in the World Cup giving them wings to be ambitious. They have literally looked unstoppable. Neither oppositions nor injuries have been able to stop the galloping Indians.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, are at the opposite pole. They came in as a surprise package, threatening to upset a few of the stronger teams, but haven’t made much of an impact having lost all the matches they have played so far.

For India, the match comes at just the right time perhaps, because captain Virat Kohli may find it easier to try a few things differently while playing against the Afghans. Of course, if at all Kohli wishes to.

The biggest point of discussion on the match eve was whether young Rishabh Pant will get to make his World Cup debut.

While people talk about nurturing World Cup dreams, in Rishabh’s case it has really been like a dream. And a sweet one too.

Having been ignored when the Indian World Cup XV was selected, the wicketkeeper-batsman was all set for a four-year wait for making an appearance at the mega event. But an unfortunate injury to Shikhar Dhawan cut short his waiting period in a dramatic fashion.

And as things stand, Rishabh might well make Saturday’s team too. That is because Vijay Shankar, who came into the playing XI because of Dhawan’s injury, is himself struggling with fitness. Shankar was hit on the toe by a Jasprit Bumrah delivery during practice and even underwent a fitness test on Friday.

While Vijay is hopeful of being fit for Saturday’s match, it is not guaranteed that he will play versus the Afghans. First of all, the team wouldn’t like to risk him if he is not 100 per cent, and secondly his injury makes it easier for captain Kohli to pick Rishabh instead.

With tougher battles lying ahead, Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri would like to give Rishabh a feel of the big stage. With injuries threatening every now and then, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep Rishabh battle-ready.

Though the ‘Rishabh or Vijay’ dilemma didn’t have a clear answer on match eve, it’s almost certain that Mohammed Shami will get to play his first match of World Cup 2019 on Saturday.

Shami was left to warm the bench as Kohli preferred the Bumrah-Bhuvneshwar Kumar combination in a two-pacer attack. But with Bhuvneshwar being ruled out for two-three matches, Shami is set to play versus Afghanistan.

Expect Shami to come out all guns blazing as he will definitely be wishing to prove a point or two.

Afghanistan, troubled by off-field issues like coach Phil Simmons’s verbal tussle with a selector, will hope to be competitive against the mighty Indians. For that, they will be hoping that their spinners — Rashid Khan, Mohammed Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman — have a good day.

That won’t be easy though, as they are scarred after England amassed an almost-400 total against them in their last match. Rashid, the most successful, popular and respected Afghan cricketer, was thrashed for a record 110 runs in 9 overs. Will he able to make a strong comeback?

Not to forget, the Indian spinners — Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav — have been pretty impressive with their bowling in the tournament so far. And if they have a good day, things might become even more difficult for the Afghans.

The likes of Rohit Sharma, captain Kohli and Hardik Pandya are in good touch and are expected to harass the Afghan bowlers. With the wicket in Southampton likely to be a happy one for the batsmen, with the average first innings score in the last five completed ODIs here is 286, it will be interesting to see how much India manage to score if they bat first.

The rain, by the way, is unlikely to play spoilsport.


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