Men in Blue keen on adding to Afghani blues

The 28th match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 will see India take on Afghanistan at The Rose Bowl, Southampton. A major talking point going into the game is the call-up for Rishabh Pant who takes Shikhar Dhawan’s place in the squad after the latter succumbed to a broken thumb.

Two teams with contrasting CWC campaigns will be going head-to-head for only the third time in ODI cricket. In the previous two games, Afghanistan have seen one defeat and one nail-racking tie. However, they currently find themselves in the middle of a drought of wins and on the bottom of the CWC 19 points table. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Men in Blue who have had nothing short of a dream run. As Rohit Sharma stated after their last game, the team has been ticking all boxes most of the times.

Much to the delight of Team India supporters, unlike the last two games, weather forecasts suggest rains will not intervene the run of play. Virat Kohli’s men will be acquainted with the Rose Bowl pitch, having played and won their World Cup opener at the venue on 5th June. In the last match in Southampton, the able English top order enjoyed a good day out scoring runs at will. The batsmen of both sides will be keen to free their arms tomorrow.

Team Form:

With 319 runs Rohit Sharma has been the front-runner for India as his purple patch, that he credits to his daughter Samaira, has been influential in their success so far. To top it all, the batting depth that the team has in hand eases pressure from the players. Vijay Shankar, who made quite an impact in his first ever World Cup game, will be an asset with both, bat and ball.

Jasprit Bumrah will be sharing bowling responsibilities with Mohammed Shami, as Shami will replace Bhuvneshwar Kumar who suffered a hamstring injury in the INDvPAK game. While Bhuvneshwar’s presence will be missed, the addition of Shami to the already-menacing Indian bowling force will give the Afghanis no respite.

Afghanistan have had little to smile about in the tournament, but the team, as always, has shown spirit and appetite. While facing India will be an up-hill challenge, having just faced an on-slaught from England, the Afghani side has several game-changers in their ranks. Hashmatullah Shahidi, their top-scorer, will have to play a pivotal hand for Afghanistan. In the bowling department, they will be reliant heavily on spinners – Mujeeb Ur Rehman, Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan.

Key Battle:

Hardik Pandya vs Rashid Khan

Hardik has been in sublime form, be it during the IPL or in England at the World Cup. With few who can match his clean hitting and sweet timing, he is a boon for Team India. An equally important game-changer in the Afghani outfit is Rashid Khan.

The bowler faced tremendous beating off English batsmen in the last match, to add to his already poor run at the World Cup. Even though his CWC 19 economy of 7.03 is unimaginable for a bowler of his calibre, India will not underestimate the destruction he can cause. A contest between these two impact players will be a gripping one, particularly in the last 15 overs of the game.

The match between India and Afghanistan will start on Saturday at 3 PM IST at The Rose Bowl, Southampton.