T20 World Cup: Rohit Sharma's Team India gears up for Afghanistan test at Caribbean cricket’s home | Crickit
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T20 World Cup: Rohit Sharma's Team India gears up for Afghanistan test at Caribbean cricket’s home

By, New Delhi
Jun 20, 2024 06:28 AM IST

The first Super Eights game for Rohit Sharma’s team will be against a team that is very much capable of matching them.

From New York and Florida, the Indian team has moved to the iconic Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados — a venue considered the spiritual home of West Indies cricket. Among the galaxy of greats who belong to this island dotted with idyllic beaches are Gary Sobers, Malcolm Marshall, Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes.

India's Virat Kohli and Yashasvi Jaiswal during a practice session (BCCI-X)
India's Virat Kohli and Yashasvi Jaiswal during a practice session (BCCI-X)

On Tuesday morning, the Indian players and support staff got a glimpse of greatness when 86-year-old Hall, a tall and fearsome fast bowler in the 1960s, made his way to the hallowed ground and gave copies of his autobiography to Rahul Dravid and Virat Kohli.

Smiles and pleasantries with Hall were exchanged during a full-fledged training session that saw India’s players turn up the intensity. They kick off their Super Eight campaign at the T20 World Cup against Afghanistan on Thursday after sauntering through the group phase with victories against Ireland, Pakistan and United States.

Afghanistan should present a considerably stiffer challenge. They may not be one of the most pedigreed teams in the competition, but as they showed by beating New Zealand by 84 runs in a Group C clash, they have the resources to beat any team on their day in this format.

Having come across most of Afghanistan’s players routinely in the Indian Premier League (IPL), India will be familiar with what their opponents are capable of. In January, the teams met in a three-match series that India won 2-0. In the last T20I in Bengaluru, India found themselves in a blind alley at 22/4 before Rohit and Rinku Singh staged an exceptional recovery with a 190-run stand for the fifth wicket to take the hosts to 212/4. In response, Afghanistan bashed India’s bowlers with the same vigour, amassing the same total to force a tie.

The previous match at Kensington Oval suggests that a high-scoring game may be on the cards. On June 8, Australia, sent into bat by England captain Jos Buttler, made the most of the placid conditions to score 201/7. England too began their chase belligerently and raced to 73/0 in seven overs. That is when leggie Adam Zampa came into the attack to change the complexion of the game, dismissing Phil Salt and Buttler in back-to-back overs to send the Aussies on their way to victory.

If a leg-spinner is to have an impact on Thursday, Afghanistan skipper Rashid Khan will be keen to be that man. It is to be noted that the 25-year-old hasn’t been able to quite weave his magic against India yet. In two T20Is against them, his eight wicketless overs have gone for 69 runs.

The battle between India’s batters and the ace Afghanistan spinner will be fascinating nevertheless. If India’s top six are able to negate Rashid to some extent, it will put the other Afghanistan bowlers under a lot more pressure.

Left-arm pacer Fazalhaq Farooqi, who has 12 wickets in four matches, has been a consistent threat with the new ball in this tournament. Given his ability to swing the ball into right-handers, Rohit and Virat Kohli will have to be watchful about playing across the front pad and falling into the leg-before trap. In Afghanistan’s spin attack, off-spinner Mohammad Nabi and left-arm wrist spinner Noor Ahmad are able allies to Rashid.

India’s hopes with the bat will most likely rest on Rohit, Virat, Rishabh Pant and Suryakumar Yadav. Pant has been India’s in-form batter over the past two weeks. Yadav seemed to be just getting into his groove when he finished unbeaten on 50 against United States.

Also worth keeping an eye on is India’s bowling combination. They chose to play four seamers (including Hardik Pandya) and just two spinners in the US leg because the conditions were distinctly favourable for pace. But with the pitches in the Caribbean likely to bring spin into the equation, a horses-for-courses selection may be appropriate.

In case spin has a bigger role, Kuldeep Yadav should certainly get a look in. The left-arm wrist spinner has warmed the bench so far, which was unexpected going into the tournament given his splendid run of form in the past 18 months. A much-improved bowler across all formats, Yadav has the guile and street smartness to mould his approach according to the situation. If the surface is a belter, Yadav can bowl a flatter trajectory with the aim of containment. If there’s help, he can toss the ball up and tease batters into playing the big shots.

Notwithstanding this selection call, India’s line-up wears a settled look for a clash where the margin of error will be minimal. It’s not quite do-or-die, but a win will go a long way towards sealing a semi-final spot. That is significant in a group also comprising Australia.

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