Southampton: India are expected to breeze past Afghanistan at the Rose Bowl in Southampton on Saturday considering the form and might the team have displayed in this World Cup.
Afghanistan have lost all five of their matches and are bottom of the table, while India have not lost any of their four matches — with three wins and a washout.
For Afghanistan, the only hope of getting a point would have been if rain prevented the match from happening — but the weather forecast is for sunshine all day on Saturday.
The only change in the Indian team is Mohammad Shami coming in place of injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Many had doubts whether Vijay Shankar, who was hit on the toe by a Jasprit Bumrah delivery at the nets on Thursday, would play the match, but he represented the India team in the prematch press conference on Friday.
So the first question to him was whether he would be playing in the match rather than discussing India’s chances against Afghanistan.
“I’ve got a lot better,” is all he said.
Does that mean, he will play? “Hopefully,” he said with a smile without giving away anything.
The following question to him was on what the playing XI would be. He laughed and remarked: “I don’t know either. I’ll know early in the morning tomorrow.”
So was he surprised that the ball from Bumrah hit his toe?
“Actually, when you play someone like Bumrah, you always expect that. Still, sometimes we do miss that.”
It was only after the grilling on his chances of playing ended that he was asked about how easy would it be against Afghanistan.
“It’s not about whom we’re playing … it’s about how we play as individuals. We always look to get better, even when we get to a practice session. That is the only motive we have. So we’ll just look to get better. It’s just about how we play against each and every individual.”
When Afghanistan skipper Gulbadin Naib was asked the same question on his team’s chances against India, he candidly said: “India are not an easy side and are obviously one of the best teams now and a high ranking team. So we’re just focusing on our cricket. They’re are not going to give us anything and they will be coming on us very hard.”
Shankar was asked about his World Cup debut in the victory over Pakistan.
“The last game gave me some confidence, and especially playing against Pakistan, and making my debut against them,” he said. “It was a very special thing for me, performing under pressure and coming out good. The team winning at the end of the day is really important.”
Rashid Khan, the star bowler of the Afghanistan team, is Shankar’s teammate in the Indian Premier League as both play for Sunrisers Hyderabad. When asked about Rashid, Shankar pointed out that he has learnt a lot from him as a bowler.
“He’s definitely one of the best bowlers right now in limited overs, and he has done well,” he said. “For me, having played with him for a couple of years, I’ve picked up things from him. Whenever I bat against him in the nets, I try and pick his variations. He is definitely a good bowler. Anyone can go for runs some days [Khan was hit for over 100 by England]. It is about how we come back strong. So for me, it is about how I play against him tomorrow. That will be the key.”
Catch the Match
India vs Afghanistan
Venue, Rose Bowl, Southampton
Start time: 1.30pm UAE
Telecast: OSN Sports