This was Rohit Sharma when questioned what advise would Rohit give to Pakistan. Fact is Afghanistan would love for Rohit or someone with equal cricketing pedigree to advise them too on how to get out of the hole they find themselves in. Also, not sure if Rohit would want to advise Afghanistan on how to bowl to Rohit…will defy logic.
Because it is here in Southampton that Rohit Sharma and India will take on Afghanistan in a couple of days time and the fortunes of the two teams couldn’t be more stark going into this game. India are unbeaten after four games, Afghanistan are yet to win any in five.
Speaking of stark, the weather here cannot be more stark than Nottingham and Manchester where rain played havoc with the fans’ psyche – it’s sunny right now and so is the forecast, let’s get to the Ageas Bowl to see what things hold for us there.
India have been clinical in their approach, winning all their games with a lot in the banks while Afghanistan’s best performance was a 34-run loss against Sri Lanka, a game their fans would believe they should have won. That match aside, Afghanistan have shown fight only in patches and often as an after-thought. Also as an afterthought I need to rush to get to my bus-stop or it could be bit of a fight for me too to grab my bus.
First, the bad news. Shikhar Dhawan has been ruled out of the 2019 World Cup because of his thumb fracture he suffered in that game against Australia. Given Dhawan’s record in ICC competitions, it won’t be amiss to say his absence will affect India’s chances adversely in the tournament…
…what makes it worse is Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s hamstring looked strained enough for him to get off the field after bowling less than two overs and he has now been ruled out for at least two if not three games, leaving India will a lot of work to do with their rejigging of the XI.
The good news for India is that in a bid to get to the semi-finals, they have done the hard yards already. Beating South Africa, Australia and Pakistan and sharing points with New Zealand in a rain-filled Trent Bridge
That being said, India were without Dhawan against Pakistan and effectively without Bhuvneshwar for almost the entire duration of his bowling and still won by aplenty. This looks like a team with a well-oiled mechanism that will remain tough to beat.
What makes India a scarier unit is that Jasprit Bumrah hasn’t hit top form yet, with his five wickets coming at nearly 30 and an economy-rate of 5.3, while Kuldeep Yadav has picked up just three wickets so far.
What’s worked for the Indian bowling is that twice they have had the buffer of big scores and they have hunted in packs.
Speaking of Afghanistan, they have been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
After all, not so long ago, they were touted as a team to watch out coming into this tournament and while making the knockouts was probably long odds, they did look like they had it in them to challenge for the sixth or seventh spot.
Right from even before a ball was bowled, Afghanistan’s goose looked cooked when their board CEO Shafiqullah Stanikzai was given the marching orders but that was followed by the replacement of incumbent captain Asghar Afghan by Gulbadin Naib.
One might argue the merits and demerits of the presence of Asghar Afghan given his batting showing, but a change in leadership that close to the World Cup could have had only adverse effect on the side’s chances.
Asghar Afghan’s numbers:
What makes it worse it’s thrown Gulbadin Naib into the spotlight and he has had to evade the constant media glare for a variety of reasons in his short stint already. Senior Players have questioned the board on the captaincy change which, some might argue undermines Naib’s position as the skipper.
It hasn’t helped that Mohammad Shahzad was sent packing for fitness-related reasons and he reached home and complained he wasn’t unfit; to be fair to him, Shahzad has never been in the Virat Kohli mould of fitness anyway. It has also not helped that their talisman cricketer Rashid Khan is going through bit of a form crisis of his own.
More embarrassment was to follow with the news trickling in that few of the players have got involved with a man taking video – the captain denied any such thing in his press conference and things came to such a head that he threatened to walk out of the press conference if that line of questioning continued.
And as is the case in such situations, the blame-game has begun as well; chief selector’s blamed coach Phil Simmons and the management for the results, Simmons has retaliated with a tell-all threat post the World Cup – this has turned it for Afghanistan from a World Cup campaign that promised to one to remember to a thrill-a-minute drama that is more suited to a Netflix original than a cricket field.
2018 was their best year in ODI cricket, with a win-loss ratio of 1.71, including a title win at the World Cup Qualifiers. 2019 has gone the other way, they have had a few losses to Ireland but going into the World Cup, it didn’t seem like they would be in the situation they find themselves in.
The England loss would be particularly devastating in the sense their best bowler, Rashid Khan went for the 110 runs from his nine overs – to give you a context of how shattering that might be, in his 64 ODIs, Rashid Khan has gone for more than six an over only thrice before today and his worst was 7.55 in the Qualifiers last year. Against England, he conceded 12.22 and didn’t complete his spell.
It was an off-day for Rashid alright and we all have them but it’s not been the best World Cup for him so far; went for 6.42 against South Africa and 6.5 against Australia too, to go with that knock he took on his head – he didn’t bowl in the New Zealand game.
A total of three fifties have been hit by Afghanistan batsmen, Hasmatullah Shahidi has scored the most runs, but if you are going to have 165 at an average of 33 and a strike-rate of 60 as your best effort then it’s a huge problem. They could have done with the enigmatic hitting of Mohammad Shahzad at the top but well, he’s not around any more…
India and Afghanistan have played in two ODIs and the last time they faced off was last year in the Asia Cup where the game ended in a tie. Interestingly over the years, India and Afghanistan have featured in just five internationals, with India winning four with ease and one finishing in a tie.
Here’s an interesting one. Between the time Bangladesh became a Test-playing nation and Afghanistan became a Test-playing nation, current Indian batsmen haven’t had too many opportunities playing against the Associates – MS Dhoni’s 191 runs is the most runs by an Indian batsman against an Associate team. Add Zimbabwe to the mix and in that same time-frame, Dhoni’s made just 399 of his 10.5k runs against these lower-ranked sides. None of these other batsmen have scored more than that.
I don’t think it can go a lot worse for Afghanistan and that is the kind of position from where teams are very dangerous. Pakistan have shown that in the past too and Afghanistan will hope to emulate that, but the question is, who will rise to give the Afghan players a cornered-tigers-like speech and inspire them from a situation like this? They also have their last meeting with India to look at, in which they held India to a tie – which could give them some confidence.
My prediction is that the Indian bowlers should be able to restrict Afghanistan to a sub-200 score if they bowl first, for India to chase it down in a hurry and for us to be back home a couple of hours earlier than usual. Hopefully without too much of a fight to get that bus back home!