T20 World Cup: Rohit Sharma’s Indian team prepares for Afghanistan Test at home of Caribbean cricket

From New York and Florida, the Indian team moved to the iconic Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados – a venue considered the spiritual home of West Indies cricket. Among the galaxy of greats who belong to this idyllic beach-studded island are Gary Sobers, Malcolm Marshall, Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes.

India's Virat Kohli and Yashasvi Jaiswal during a practice session (BCCI-X)
India’s Virat Kohli and Yashasvi Jaiswal during a practice session (BCCI-X)

On Tuesday morning, Indian players and support staff got a glimpse of greatness when Hall, 86, a great and fearsome fast bowler of the 1960s, took to the hallowed ground and gave away copies of his autobiography has Rahul Dravid And Virat Kohli.

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Smiles and jokes with Hall were exchanged during a full-fledged training session that saw the Indian players increasing the intensity. They launch their Super Eight campaign at T20 World Cup against Afghanistan on Thursday after cruising through the group stage with wins over Ireland, Pakistan and the United States.

Afghanistan is expected to present a considerably more difficult challenge. They may not be one of the most pedigreed teams in the competition, but as they showed by beating New Zealand by 84 points in a Group C clash, they have the resources to beat n any team on their day in this format.

Having met most of the Afghan players regularly in the Indian Premier League (IPL), India know what their opponents are capable of. In January, the teams met in a three-match series which India won 2–0. In the last T20I in Bengaluru, India found themselves in a stalemate at 22/4 before Rohit and Rinku Singh staged an exceptional comeback with a 190-run stand for the fifth wicket to take the hosts to 212/ 4. In response, Afghanistan thrashed the Indian bowlers with equal vigour, amassing the same total to force a tie.

The previous match at Kensington Oval suggests a high-scoring match could be on the cards. On June 8, Australia, put into bat by England captain Jos Buttler, took advantage of calm conditions to score 201/7. England also started their run in a belligerent manner and reached 73/0 in seven overs. That’s when leggie Adam Zampa came into attack to change the complexion of the game, dismissing Phil Salt and Buttler consecutively to send the Australians on their way to victory.

If a leg-spinner is to make an impact on Thursday, Afghanistan skipper Rashid Khan will be eager to be that man. It is notable that the 25-year-old is yet to work his magic against India. In two T20Is against them, his eight wicketless overs totaled 69 runs.

The battle between the Indian batters and the Afghan ace will nevertheless be fascinating. If the Indian top six manages to neutralize Rashid to some extent, it will put a lot more pressure on the other Afghan bowlers.

Left-arm pacer Fazalhaq Farooqi, who has 12 wickets in four matches, has been a constant threat with the new ball in this tournament. Given his ability to bowl the ball towards the right-handers, Rohit and Virat Kohli will have to be careful not to play on the front pad and fall into the leg-before trap. In Afghanistan’s spin attack, off-spinner Mohammad Nabi and left-wrist spinner Noor Ahmad are effective allies for Rashid.

India’s hopes with the bat will most likely rest on Rohit, Virat, Rishabh Pant and Suryakumar Yadav. Pant has been India’s in-form hitter over the last two weeks. Yadav seemed to be just getting into his rhythm as he finished unbeaten on 50 against the United States.

Also worth keeping an eye on is the Indian bowling combination. They chose to play four seamers (including Hardik Pandya) and just two spinners in the American leg because the conditions were clearly favorable for pace. But as terrain in the Caribbean is likely to add spice to the equation, a selection of horses for the courses may be appropriate.

In case spin plays a bigger role, Kuldeep Yadav should definitely take a look. The left wrist spinner has been warming up the bench so far, which was unexpected ahead of the tournament considering his splendid form over the last 18 months. A much-improved bowler in all formats, Yadav has the guile and street smarts to shape his approach according to the situation. If the surface is wider, Yadav can follow a flatter trajectory for containment purposes. If there is help, he can throw the ball and get hitters to play big shots.

Despite this selection call, the Indian composition displays a composed look for a clash where the margin for error will be minimal. It’s not quite a matter of survival, but a win will go a long way toward securing a semi-final spot. This is important in a group that also includes Australia.

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