With two losses in the first two Super 12 matches at the T20 World Cup, the Indian side, led by Virat Kohli, will have to beat Afghanistan in their next fixture if they have any hopes of making it to the semi-finals.
India’s batting order appears to be in a significant degree of disarray at the moment, the most telling sign of which was the fact that Kohli opted to use different openers in both of the matches played so far. Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul opened proceedings for India against Pakistan, but a few days later, Rohit was moved down into third, with Ishan Kishan opening alongside Rahul instead. Kohli mentioned that this change was a forced one, a stop-gap measure enacted because Suryakumar Yadav was suffering from back spasms, and it very much looked so, with the top-order batters crumbling against New Zealand.
Further down the order, the likes of Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja and Rishabh Pant have also put in slightly underwhelming performances so far, and have not been able to provide India with that extra bit of momentum towards the end of innings.
Afghanistan looking good
Afghanistan have the look of bonafide dark horses, having won two out of three games played so far. Their first match resulted in a mammoth 130-run win over Scotland, in which Mujeeb-ur-Rahman and Rashid Khan took five and four wickets respectively, while Najibullah Zadran scored 59 off 34 balls.
Their second match was a defeat at the hands of Pakistan, who have been playing some truly impressive cricket in the tournament. Of all of Pakistan’s wins in the campaign, their win against Afghanistan was the narrowest, as they won by five wickets with six balls remaining. Rashid also picked up two wickets in the match, but the efforts of Babar Azam and Asif Ali, the latter of whom hit four sixes in the final over, managed to get Pakistan over the line.
In their most recent tie, Afghanistan beat Namibia by 62 runs in another massive victory. Mohammed Shahzad stood out with a knock of 45, while Hamid Hassan and Naveen-ul-Haq took three wickets apiece. Their two wins out of three put them in second place in the table currently, with everyone below them having a game in hand. While New Zealand do still look more likely to finish in second place once all the matches have been played, if Afghanistan can beat NZ or India, they could very well make it into the semi-finals.
Net Run Rate
With a net run rate of -1.609 at the moment, just three wins in their next three matches will not suffice for India. They need to score a lot of runs and win by large margins. Afghanistan currently have the best net run rate in the group at 3.097, thanks in large part to their sizeable wins over Scotland and Namibia, as well as a relatively narrow loss to Pakistan.
New Zealand have a decent net run rate, as do Pakistan, and both these sides are yet to play Namibia and Scotland, both of whom have found the Super 12 stage to be a real challenge. With all due respect to Namibia and Scotland, if we operate under the assumption that both New Zealand and Pakistan will beat both these sides without any complications, India would require three wins in their remaining three matches, and for Afghanistan to beat New Zealand.
The R Ashwin issue
More than a few eyebrows were raised when R Ashwin was brought back into India’s T20I squad ahead of the tournament, after years spent on the sidelines, but nothing much has come of that decision so far. Ashwin did play in the warm-ups for the tournament, but he is yet to play in a competitive match in the T20 World Cup. Varun Chakaravarthy, meanwhile, has bowled four overs on two separate occasions already, without taking a single wicket and conceding 56 runs in the process.
Ashwin is the most experienced spinner at India’s disposal by a country mile, and against Afghanistan, that experience might make the difference between victory and defeat. Chakaravarthy has been given a chance to show that he belongs on this stage, but having failed to impress twice, there’s a strong enough case for Ashwin to replace him for the match against Afghanistan.