Having beaten Afghanistan comfortably in their only previous Twenty20 fixture, there is little to suggest that India will have a difficult time against the minnows in their ICC World Twenty20 opener at the Premadasa in Colombo on Wednesday.
Batting is the undoubted strength of this Indian team, and in both the warm-ups – against Sri Lanka and Pakistan – the batsmen dominated. Rohit Sharma, whose selection in the side raised a few eyebrows, made a welcome return to form with scores of 37 and 56. Virat Kohli, India’s biggest bet these days, hit a personal Twenty20 best in India blues against Pakistan to continue an incredible streak in 2012. Against a batting line-up consisting of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit, Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Dhoni, the Afghans look no match.
However, India’s bowling remains a worry. It’s manifested by the fact they failed to defend 185 for 3 against Pakistan and conceded 65 runs off the final 37 deliveries. While it was a warm-up, the frailties of this bowling attack were laid bare yet again. Zaheer Khan went for 31 in three overs, Harbhajan Singh conceded 40 in four, L Balaji bled 32 in his last two overs and Irfan Pathan, following a five-wicket haul against Sri Lanka, gave away 40 runs at 12.63 an over.
India should have an easy game but they can't afford to be complacent as the Afghans have nothing to lose.
In short, consistency has been a big problem with this bowling unit. They may not be facing a stern test against Afghanistan but against better teams India don’t look much of a bowling side.
Afghanistan have been inconsistent, but they have some good players for the Twenty20 format in Karim Shadiq and Mohammad Shehzad, both of whom are explosive batsmen. Mohammad Nabi is a capable allrounder who can turn a match on his own while in the bowling, legspinner Samiullah Shenwari could be Afghanistan’s trump card as his economy rate of 5.45 in international matches suggests.
The Afghans impressed in their warm-up against Sri Lanka A with a convincing 51-run win after piling up 209 for 7. However, against West Indies they were taken down a peg or two. Whatever the outcome of the match against India, this team will have benefited hugely. Getting to compete against big teams like India and England will be good for their development. They have nothing to lose and they can turn the very fact into their strength.
India, the 2007 champions, unquestionably go into the match as favourites but they have to make sure it’s a thumping win because only a win like that will set the tone for their campaign. A scrambling win won’t do for the team’s confidence. Remember, England are up next.
India: 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 MS Dhoni (capt/wk) 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 R Ashwin, 11 Harbhajan Singh
Afghanistan: 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Karim Sadiq, 3 Nawroz Mangal (capt), 4 Asghar Stanikzai, 5 Mohammad Nabi, 6 Shafiqullah, 7 Samiullah Shenwari 8 Gulbodin Naib, 9 Nasim Baras, 10 Dawlat Zadran, 11 Shapoor Zadran