When one touches down to New Delhi, they are greeted by the nip in the morning, followed by the sun shining brightly throughout the day, before the evening and night takes a cool turn. With monsoon in retreating mode, India’s national capital is having its first brush with changing weather in October.
Amidst this confusing backdrop, the Indian team sans an ill Shubman Gill, is in the city with an eye on adding another win to its kitty when they face Afghanistan in its second game of the 2023 Men’s ODI World Cup at a new-look Arun Jaitley Stadium on Wednesday, which is again expected to be a sea of blue.
The last game at the stadium in the tournament was a rampaging run-fest between South Africa and Sri Lanka, which saw 754 runs being plundered in 94.5 overs – the highest ever runs aggregate in an ODI World Cup match, including 31 sixes. With small boundaries and the outfield being fast, one can expect for another run-fest on the centre wicket pitch being used in the competition for the first time.
Though India are heading into the competition with a six-wicket win over Australia in Chennai, they will be aware that Afghanistan are no pushover. Plus with their World Cup caravan moving to Delhi from Chennai, India’s ability to adapt quickly to different conditions and pitches will be tested too.
“Just looking to focus on the process. That is the message that has been given to the team again and again that we just look to play our game well, we just look to do our things right and I am sure we have the team with the results. If we do our things right, the results will be taken care of. So that is what the focus is on,” stated batting coach Vikram Rathour in the pre-game press conference.
With the bat, India would want for the troika of captain Rohit Sharma, Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer to get runs with the bat, after bagging ducks in quick succession against Australia. What India would also be keen to see is how Kishan and Iyer go about their shot selection, after rash strokes led to their downfall in Chennai.
An aspect which would have pleased India hugely was how Virat Kohli and KL Rahul weathered the early storm to share a match-winning 165-run stand under extreme pressure. While Kohli added another date to his list of acing chases, Rahul enhanced his reputation as a solid middle-order batter, who can bat in any gear and can handle pressure situations in a sorted manner.
From a bowling perspective, all Indian bowlers were amongst the wicket-takers. But with conditions in New Delhi completely different from Chennai, India can look to bring in a fast-bowler in Mohammad Shami or a batting all-rounder in Shardul Thakur in place of veteran off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.
India have a 2-0 lead over Afghanistan in head-to-head record in ODIs, including a tied Asia Cup clash in 2018. But the last time India faced Afghanistan, it was in 2019 World Cup, where Shami’s hat-trick gave the hosts a narrow 11-run win at Southampton. But Afghanistan recently did something which India hasn’t done in a long time: an ODI series win in Bangladesh.
But the Hashmatullah Shahidi-led side’s opener ended in a losing note to Bangladesh in Dharamshala. At 83-1, Afghanistan were poised to get a big total before a capitulation to spin of Shakib Al Hasan and Mehidy Hasan Miraz meant they crashed to 156 all out, setting themselves up for a six-wicket loss.
In New Delhi, they would be itching to put up a better batting performance to break their six-match losing streak, especially when facing a highly experienced and formidable spin bowling challenge from India, after losing six wickets for 62 runs against the Bangladesh spin department.
“You know, we play better spin in the nets sessions. Rashid, Nabi, Noor and Mujeeb, we play them every day. So, I think our team is far better in playing spin bowling. So that game (against Bangladesh) we struggled but you can’t say that you are not good enough (on the basis of) one game,” said Shahidi.
Apart from Shahidi, Rahmanullah Gurbaz also holds the key at the top. They would also want for their spin attack of their trump card Rashid Khan, along with Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, plus combine with Fazalhaq Farooqui and Naveen-ul-Haq to test the Indian batters when the stadium will be painted blue and would be experiencing another day of changing weather.
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Hardik Pandya (vice-captain), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul (wicket-keeper), Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav
Afghanistan: Hashmatullah Shahidi (captain), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wicket-keeper), 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 and Naveen ul Haq