Lots of 'spice' in the Emerald Isles
by Asher Wilson

Scorecard:Afghanistan v India
Event:ICC World Twenty20 2012/13

DateLine: 19th September 2012


India vs Afghanistan
3rd T20 World Cup Match
Group A


Today's match between India and Afghanistan will see an interesting MS vs MS fight. It is not clear how many know of MS Dhoni back in Afghanistan but certainly more would know the MS from India's troubled neighbour as both neighbours meet in their first match of ICC World T20 on Wednesday at the R. Premdasa stadtium, Colombo.


On a more serious note, India may be feeling quite relieved playing against the minnows but they too would like to avoid any hiccups early in the tournament hoping to get into the groove for the tougher battles ahead. India has lost its two previous T20 encounters and its bowling well may be put to some sword like done by Kamran Akmal in the second warm match, lost to Pakistan by five wickets. India did win the first warm match against Sri Lanka by 26 runs. The pitch is expected to be the same as used in today's earlier game. In their only meeting till date, India had comfortably beaten Afghanistan by seven wickets during the last edition of World T20 in the West Indies.


As far as India's batting is concerned, it looks more or less settled with seasoned opening pair of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, solid middle-order consisting of Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni himself although both Sehwag and Gambhir didn't have a good time against New Zealand. An unfancied Afghanistan attack is just the stuff they need to find some form going their way. Gambhir, who retired hurt during the warm-up match against Sri Lanka after being hit by a Lasith Malinga delivery, scored just 10 against Pakistan yesterday but the opener is now fit and would be keen to regain his form. Sehwag, who had missed the last two World T20 editions due to injury, will look to make amends in a format where he hasn't performed up to expectations during international matches. All eyes will be on India's 'man of the moment', Kohli who has been in stupendous form in all three formats. Kohli, who has deservedly won ICC's 'ODI Cricketer of the Year' award, will like to showcase his wide range of strokes in the shortest format.


While pace spearhead Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan are two automatic selections, there is a strong case for seamer Lakshmipathy Balaji who has had some good performances in this format in the Indian Premier League. Balaji has a lot of variety and is an effective bowler in the death overs, though he went for runs in the warm-up game against Pakistan. Of late, the nature of the 22-yard strip at the R Premadasa Stadium has undergone a change and the faster bowlers have been getting a lot of help.


Therefore, if India go in to play three seamers, it will again be a toss-up between in-form Ravichandran Ashwin and comeback man Harbhajan Singh. Both played in the two practice games. While together they gave away only 37 runs in their eight overs with the senior off-spinner taking the wicket of Kumar Sangakkara in the first warm-up game, in the match against Pakistan, Harbhajan turned out to be expensive, giving away 40 runs from four overs. Ashwin, however, continued his fine form with figures of four for 23. As Ashwin has done well in recent times, the lanky Tamil Nadu lad is a front-runner in case India play four bowlers. The fifth bowler if need be, can be anyone amongst Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma.


A smooth start against the Afghans will certainly help the team management to have an idea about the performance of their preferred combination. Indian skipper MS Dhoni seems to be not open to reveal his strategy. He says that as their top seven batsmen are doing well, he himself need not to be promoted. But at the same time he adds that is the most likely scenario but it may change later. He also said that he believes in giving his preferred players a long rope. In fact, he has indicated that he would go in with four specialist bowlers and rely on his part-timers to fill in the fifth bowler's quota. MS Dhoni might not find it too difficult to decide on whether to play seven batsmen or five bowlers in this game but in the next match he would have to make a tough decision because bowling seems to go brittle under pressure. Fans would love to see some fireworks from the cancer-recovered allrounder Yuvraj Singh who has shown quite a good progress in recent games.


Afghanistan is the team whose players had learned cricket skills by playing with sticks and plastic bags and now they are face to face with the world champions in the opening match. This war-torn, terror-stricken country achieves some solace in watching their team playing on the ground. This team cannot lay huge claims in the tournament, but their rapid progress and their emergence in the arena of international cricket is filled with high hopes in future.


Optimism is their source of confidence in this tournament. Afghanistan's Mohammad Shahzad not only shares the two most famous letters of his name with Mahendra Singh Dhoni but his work with gloves and bat is similar for his team. MS of Afghanistan loves to play like MS of India and is the highest run scorer for his team though the runs are just too meagre i.e. 312 runs in 11 matches. He loves to copy the helicopter shot like its inventor, MSD but it would be a treat to watch how he executes it.


The experts say that for Afghanistan, playing would be much more important than winning or best said, avoiding defeat against India. Though cricket wise Afghanistan’s qualification for back-to-back World Twenty20s and the Under-19 World Cup is no mean achievement for this war-ravaged country.


Afghanistan has beaten Sri Lanka A in the warm-up match by 51 runs but lost to West Indies by eight wickets in the second warm-up match. It is difficult to predict how much difference it would make for the Indian batting line up but missing strike bowler Hamid Hassan would be a huge disappointment for Afghanistan who has been ruled out due to injury. He missed the warm-up games as well.


India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, Irfan Pathan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashok Dinda, L Balaji, Piyush Chawla.


Afghanistan: Nawroz Mangal (capt), Asghar Stanikzai, Dawlat Zadran, Gulbodin Naib, Hamid Hassan, Izatullah Dawlatzai, Javed Ahmadi, Karim Sadiq, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nasim Baras, Samiullah Shenwari, Shafiqullah, Shapoor Zadran.


The latest news is that there is a lot of spice in the pitch which is normally associated with the delicious fish curry in the emerald isle. There will be some carry for the pacers and needless to say, the decks here provide juice to the spinners. All in the all, an even contest between bat and ball is on the cards which makes the tournament even more alluring.

(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
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