One of the major criticisms of the 50-over World Cup is that there are too many meaningless matches, with the minnows participating getting thrashed by the top teams. The same, thankfully, cannot be said about the 20-over version, as it gives inexperienced sides like Afghanistan a better chance to upset the mighty. Unlike in an ODI, here they only have to play first-rate cricket for a limited duration and a surprise victory could be in their lap. Of course, Zimbabwe did not set the right precedent for the weaker sides, succumbing to Sri Lanka without any kind of resistance. Afghanistan would like to change the script.
Although India are expected to clinch the encounter, there are a couple of areas where Afghanistan can catch India off guard. Firstly, India have a reputation of being poor starters in any tournament. Remember the 2007 50-over World Cup when they were embarrassingly knocked out of the tournament following their loss in the opening game against their Asian neighbours? Afghanistan would be similarly hoping to put India on the wrong foot. They don’t have the experience of Bangladesh, but they do have the talent to trouble the Indians.
A second aspect that India need to be very careful of is their bowling. The defeat in the warm-up game against Pakistan after it seemed they had the match covered brought to the fore India’s weakness in the bowling department again. If Afghanistan can attack a couple of Indian bowlers and get away with it, they may just be able to put India in a spot of bother. While the task of the fifth bowler will be crucial, it also remains to be seen whether India go in with Laxmi Balaji, who was thrashed in the practice game against Pakistan or the unpredictable, inexperienced Ashok Dinda.
As for Afghanistan, there is one man they heavily depend on in the batting department. Their burly wicket-keeper Mohammad Shahzad is also the side’s most consistent performer, with 312 runs in 11 innings, the most by an Afghanistan batsman. A big fan of M S Dhoni, those who have seen him play believe that he has the potential to be a successful international talent. Unfortunately, Afghanistan don’t play a lot against top class sides that often, which means this is among the few chances that Shahzad would get at the big stageto show what he’s made of. Good performances would also be expected of Afghanistan skipper Nawroz Mangal and Mohammad Nabi.
While India would be keen not allow Afghanistan to sneak into the game, they would have to observe the form of Yuvraj Singh as well, who is yet untested following his return to the international arena. India can only hope that the left-hander has regained full fitness, for an unfit Yuvraj could harm India’s chances of doing well considering that Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are, as it is, struggling. It’s not all rosy for India, but they would be mighty disappointed if they falter against Afghanistan.
--By A Cricket Analyst