Big picture: Final rehearsal for India
In less than five months, India will face Ireland in their opening game at the 2024 T20 World Cup. While there is the IPL before that, the three-match series against Afghanistan, starting in Mohali on Thursday, is India’s only T20I assignment in between. Incidentally, this is the first time India are playing a bilateral white-ball series against Afghanistan.
Rohit’s return also forces a change at the top. Head coach Rahul Dravid confirmed that Rohit and Yashasvi Jaiswal are India’s first-choice openers in T20Is. They also provide the left-right combination. Jaiswal’s ability to attack from the first ball also makes him a better prospect than Shubman Gill, who is the third opener in the squad.
While Gill has improved his six-hitting ability, his powerplay strike rate in all T20s since the start of 2023 is only 138.44 while Jaiswal’s is 163.69. In Kohli’s absence, Gill could slot in at No. 3 on Thursday but may have to sit out for the last two games.
Afghanistan will be keen to build on their gains from the 2023 ODI World Cup. They will play nine T20Is between now and the T20 World Cup. So there is time to finalise the first-choice XI, play it together, and fine-tune it if required.
With that in mind, they have picked a 19-member squad for this series. Rashid Khan is also part of the roster but will not play in the series as he continues to recover from back surgery. In his absence, Ibrahim Zadran will lead the side once again.
Afghanistan had a hiccup last month when Fazalhaq Farooqi, Naveen-ul-Haq and Mujeeb Ur Rahman wanted to be released from their central contracts and play franchise cricket. But all three are now back in the national team and are expected to play a big role.
Rohit Sharma was in good spirits during India’s training session•PTI
India WLWWL (last five completed T20Is, most recent first)Afghanistan WLWWW
In the spotlight: Rohit Sharma and Najibullah Zadran
Rohit Sharma gave India blazing starts at the ODI World Cup, scoring at a strike rate of 135.01 in the powerplay. But it needs to be seen if he can translate the same into T20 cricket. In ODIs, a batter can take an over or two to get their eye in and then line up a particular bowler. T20, a different beast, has little breathing room. One-over spells are the norm here with bowlers’ primary goal being to stop runs. That is a challenge India would want Rohit to overcome.
Najibullah Zadran rarely gets the recognition he deserves. Among Afghanistan batters with at least 500 T20I runs, he has the highest average (31.85) and the highest strike rate (139.71). And only Mohammad Shahzad has more 50-plus scores for the country. Of late, Najibullah has been struggling with injuries and form. He was left out of the XI after just two games of the ODI World Cup, in which he scored 5 and 2. But he showed signs of a return to form with an unbeaten 13-ball 28 against UAE in the third T20I last week.
Team news: Samson or Jitesh?
With Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya out with injuries, Tilak Varma and Rinku Singh will get another chance to show their wares. The same holds for Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan and Mukesh Kumar in the fast-bowling department, with Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj rested. It will be interesting to see whether India pick Jitesh Sharma or Sanju Samson as wicketkeeper.
India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 3 Shubman Gill, 4 Tilak Varma, 5 Jitesh Sharma/Sanju Samson (wk), 6 Rinku Singh, 7 Axar Patel, 8 Kuldeep Yadav, 9 Avesh Khan, 10 Arshdeep Singh, 11 Mukesh Kumar
Ibrahim Zadran will lead Afghanistan in T20Is for the second successive series•PTI
In the absence of Rashid, Afghanistan are likely to continue with fellow legspinner Qais Ahmad. However, Noor Ahmed may have to make way for Mujeeb.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), 3 Ibrahim Zadran (capt), 4 Azmatullah Omarzai, 5 Najibullah Zadran, 6 Mohammad Nabi, 7 Gulbadin Naib/Karim Janat, 8 Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 9 Qais Ahmad, 10 Naveen-ul-Haq, 11 Fazalhaq Farooqi
Pitch and conditions: Win the toss and chase
Out of 40 T20s Mohali has hosted in the last two years, the chasing team has won 26. So the team winning the toss will be looking to bowl first, even though Afghanistan captain Ibrahim Zadran said he didn’t notice much dew in the past two days. At night, it could get slightly foggy with the temperature dropping below 5°C.
Stats and trivia: Will India get lucky with the toss?
India have now lost 11 tosses in a row. The probability of that happening is 0.0005.
Rohit needs 147 runs to become the second batter after Kohli to reach 4000 T20I runs.
Mohammad Nabi needs 123 runs and eight wickets to complete the double of 2000 runs and 100 wickets in T20Is. So far, Shakib Al Hasan is the only one to do so.
Axar Patel is five short of 50 T20I wickets.
“Rinku Singh has made a good start in international cricket and he is playing really well. The role we have given him, the finisher’s role, he is fulfilling it. This is another opportunity for him to take his development further. As far as the selection is concerned, that will be decided later but when players perform well, they are always in the selectors’ minds.”Rahul Dravid on if Rinku Singh could be a good pick for the T20 World Cup
“You see, we have one of the best spinners in the world, and we also have good fast bowlers in Naveen and Fazal. So our aim is to improve our batting skills and we will try to do more in that department.”Ibrahim Zadran on the area Afghanistan are looking to improve the most in