Technically it is a dead-rubber. India have already qualified for the final whereas Afghanistan, after suffering back-to-back narrow defeats in their two previous Super Four matches, are out of the title race in this Asia Cup. However on Tuesday, when these two teams lock horns at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, both will have a lot to play for.
For India, who have looked by far the best team in the competition, this fixture is an ideal opportunity to try out the bench strength by resting some of their first eleven players. Here, it can be argued that breaking the winning combination may hurt India’s momentum. But in hindsight, we should not forget that they are currently building a core group of players keeping the 2019 World Cup in mind. Hence, in a match like this, the team management should provide their reserve players a chance to prove a point.
Against Afghanistan, the think-tank can seriously consider giving a day off to Shikhar Dhawan, who has been in a supreme touch in this Asia Cup. In his place, KL Rahul can be tried out in the opening slot. In the middle-order, MS Dhoni can be rested while handing over the keeping gloves to Dinesh Karthik and in his place, Manish Pandey can be given an opportunity.
In bowling, both Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah deserve a break, especially when there is enough depth in quality in the attack. In this hectic schedule and under this extreme heat, the duo has consistently taken the entire burden in the pace department. So, to keep them fresh for the final, the team management should play the 20-year-old left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed, who took 3 for 48 in his debut match against Hong Kong. Even someone like Siddarth Kaul, who is also a part of this Indian squad, might get a look-in.
Nevertheless, in all likelihood, the Indian spin-attack will remain the same, which means they will play all their three specialist spinners — Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, and Ravindra Jadeja.
Most importantly, if Rohit Sharma wins the toss in this match, he should come out of his comfort zone of chasing totals and try to defend one under the lights. The pitch here seems to get better for batsmen in the second half and the only time India had bowled second here, the Hong Kong batters gave them a scare. So, in order to be fully prepared for the final, Rohit should tweak his gameplan a little in this match.
From Afghanistan’s point of view, it is all about exposure. Following this Asia Cup, they are not playing any international cricket until February, which is a very unfortunate situation considering their build-up plans for the World Cup. Hence, rest assured, they will come out hard and compete against India.
Not much chopping and changing is expected in the Afghan team, unless coach Phil Simmons wants to try out the left-arm seamer Sayed Shirzad or the 18-year-old right-arm fast bowler Wafadar Momand.
In bowling, Afghanistan’s strength is their spin-trio of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi. One must feel, against this talented spin attack, Indian batting will have a decent workout.
When it comes to the batting department, Afghanistan have a more or less settled line-up apart from that one all-rounder’s slot where they have played Samiullah Shenwari and Najibullah Zadran alternatively throughout this Asia Cup. So, for their final fixture in the competition, it will be interesting to note who among the duo gets the nod.
On Monday, as expected, both teams opted out of their scheduled practice sessions. Under this cramped schedule, preserving energy for the match seems the only way forward.
In the 50-over format, Tuesday’s match will be Afghanistan’s first against India since the 2014 Asia Cup. That time in Dhaka, it turned out to be a one-sided contest. However, this is a much-improved and experienced Afghan side and the way the ‘Blue Tigers’ have fought in this competition, their fans can certainly expect a more competitive show here in Dubai.