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PREVIEW: Two belligerent openers, enterprise through the line-up down to No.9, canny all-rounders, world-class spinners, defined roles and the highest T20I win percentage (83.3%) among full members since the last T20 World Cup in 2016. All of these roughly describe one of the two teams in action in Abu Dhabi tomorrow and that team is not India.
It is a testament to the pedigree of Afghanistan's T20 team that, despite the continuous rumblings, resignations, and its ramifications, they are a force in the shortest format, whose players' specialised skills are in demand on the franchise circuit. Here too, in the backdrop of adversity, they've produced three effervescent performances, two of them comprehensive victories and a third near-win against a high-flying Pakistan side. All that is left to rubber-stamp their current standing is a seminal World Cup victory against one of the traditional heavyweights.
Will tomorrow be that day? India are - not to put too fine a point on it - a team that is ripe for the picking. They appear jaded after a taxing year that has had tours of Australia and England. That said, their T20 philosophy has remained the same: cautious, risk-averse and conservative. It's an issue that has predated this campaign. Unlike their next opponents, India play T20 cricket with a sense of trepidation, a sense of protecting something that must not be lost.
The standings mirror this weird contrast. A semifinal berth remains a realistic target for Mohammad Nabi's team, especially on these surfaces even with two big games to come. India, on the other hand, are just about alive in the tournament, their fate no longer in their hands. If ever there was a chance for Virat Kohli and Co. to fan the flickering flames and draw a line under the inadequacies of their two recent performances, it is now. Either way, the time for a root-and-branch reform is not far off.
When: India vs Afghanistan, Super 12 Group 2, November 3, 18:00 Local, 19.30 IST
Where: Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi
What to expect: Chasing sides have won six out of the 8 games at this venue in this World Cup. But against the grain, Afghanistan like batting first and then apply the spin choke in conjunction with scoreboard pressure. They did so against Namibia here but that was a day game. They will also be aware of India's bat-first insecurities and that could force a strategy re-think.
T20I Head to Head: India 2 - 0 Afghanistan. Both the games were played at T20 World Cups in 2010 and 2012.
Injuries/Unavailability: Suryakumar Yadav missed the game against New Zealand with a back spasm. While batting coach Vikram Rathour said all 15 players were available for selection, given the short turnaround for this clash, Suryakumar could be an unlikely starter.
Tactics & Matchups:
Afghanistan like to hit out in the PowerPlays and at the death. If there has been a conservative phase in their three Super 12 matches so far, it's been during the four-over period between overs 7 and 10 (Avg Run-Rate 5.17). India, who have had wicket-taking troubles in the PowerPlay, will hope to dictate terms with the ball through this phase.
Injuries/Unavailability: Asghar Afghan has retired with immediate effect and will not play in the remainder of the tournament. Bowling allrounder Sharafuddin Ashraf has been approved as the replacement in the squad. Mujeeb Ur Rahman missed the last game with an injury and an update on his injury status hasn't been forthcoming.
Tactics & Matchups:
Unsurprisingly, spin will be central to the outcome of this tactical battle. Rashid Khan has dismissed KL Rahul thrice, Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya twice without giving away much. The players who have played him relatively better, Ishan Kishan and Rishabh Pant, have been dismissed twice each by Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
Afghanistan could also consider left-arm seamer Fareed Ahmed following the success of Shaheen Afridi and Trent Boult in the first two games against India.
India Squad: KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli(c), Rishabh Pant(w), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Varun Chakaravarthy, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ravichandran Ashwin, Suryakumar Yadav, Rahul Chahar
Afghanistan Squad: Hazratullah Zazai, Mohammad Shahzad(w), Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi(c), Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Karim Janat, Hamid Hassan, Naveen-ul-Haq, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Usman Ghani, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Fareed Ahmad, Sharafuddin Ashraf