When India meet Afghanistan at the World Cup stage on Saturday, they will have a couple of choices ahead of them – whether to try and make some changes in the Playing XI and test the players who have been warming the benches so far or to field the same Playing XI making only the forced changes due to injury. Whatever decision they take, India have a choice ahead of them only because they are one of the two unbeaten teams in the tournament.

On the other hand, Afghanistan do not have the privilege of choice. They must win to have even an outside chance of proceeding further.

No one is talking about the refugee camp narratives built around the Afghans anymore or going crazy about how this country has taken massive strides in international cricket. The harsh reality is they are a full International Cricket Council (ICC) member and they had promised a few wins at the World Cup stage especially after a commendable show in the Asia Cup last year. However, they have failed to deliver on that promise big time.

More agonizing is the fact that Afghanistan’s World Cup campaign derailment is mainly because of the off-field reasons. A change in captaincy just before the World Cup, a conflict between a former selector and the head coach, and some unexplainable selections in the Playing XI played a massive role in Afghanistan ‘s messed up World Cup campaign.

The road ahead for Afghanistan will only get tougher from here. For all the talk and happenings off the field, if the selected XI in the middle, play the sport to the best of their ability and not let the stage and the opposition get to their nerves, the  Afghans will give themselves a real good chance at winning.

Maybe intent is what they are lacking and it is their performance which will show whether they are simply waiting for their first flight home or striving to put up their best show.

As far as India is concerned, Mohammad Shami is all set to make a comeback in place of an injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar. If Vijay Shankar fails to recover on time, Rishabh Pant may also be drafted into the XI. However, even if Shankar is fit, Virat may be tempted to test someone like Pant ahead of the big games coming up.

Shami will take the center stage. Even in prime form, Bhuvi was picked for Shami and now that Bhuvneshwar Kumar is out with a niggle, Shami will probably have a couple of opportunities to prove a point or possibly be the first choice pacer even when Bhuvi regains fitness.

From Afghanistan’s point of view, Rashid Khan is a bruised lion waiting to roar loud and make a comeback. After registering the worst figures in a World Cup match against England, Rashid would be eager to show why he is such a competitive cricketer and a renowned spinner across the world.

With Sri Lanka’s win over England on Friday, the World Cup has witnessed the danger of counting out an opposition. India would be cautious but can Afghanistan live up to the challenge? We will find out.

Live action begins from 3 pm (IST) onwards. The teams meet at Rose Bowl Cricket Ground.

 

Squads

India: Virat Kohli (C), Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, MS Dhoni (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul, Mohammed Shami, Vijay Shankar, Rohit Sharma, Kuldeep Yadav, Rishabh Pant

Afghanistan: Gulbadin Naib (C), Noor Ali Zadran, Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah (wk), Asghar Afghan, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shinwari, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Aftab Alam, Hamid Hassan, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Ikram Ali Khil