Afghanistan ready with their spinners as Kohli returns to T20I cricket

Afghanistan ready with their spinners as Kohli returns to T20I cricket

Big picture: Virat Kohli returns to T20I action

Rohit Sharma’s T20I return with the bat was unspectacular; both Virat Kohli (personal reasons) and Yashasvi Jaiswal (groin injury) were unavailable for the Mohali T20I, but India still eased past Afghanistan.

For Afghanistan, Rashid Khan has been ruled out of the entire three-match series, but they can still be a dangerous T20 team on their day. Six players in the XI that played on Thursday have IPL contracts and almost all their players feature in franchise T20 – and T10 – leagues around the world.

Kohli is set to return for the second T20I in Indore – India’s second last before the T20 World Cup gets underway in the USA and the West Indies in June. He hasn’t scored freely against spin in T20 cricket – he has the second-lowest strike rate against spin among batters who have played at least 50 innings in the IPL in the past five seasons – so, this will be a good test for him against Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi. There is also considerable interest around whether Rohit can dominate T20I powerplays like he did the ODI powerplays at the World Cup last year.

The inclusion of Shivam Dube and Washington Sundar has given India six bowling options and stretches their batting down to No. 8. Dube was dropped for the T20I series in South Africa and had previously warmed the bench during the home T20Is against Australia, but could make a serious case to be picked in India’s T20 World Cup squad as Hardik Pandya’s back-up, especially if he has a strong IPL season.

Afghanistan bat deeper than India, with Mujeeb 2.0 and Naveen-ul-Haq carded at Nos. 9 and 10, but they have some problems at the top. They tried to fit two anchors in their top four – captain Ibrahim Zadran right at the top and debutant Rahmat Shah at No. 4 – but the approach didn’t work. That Afghanistan eventually reached 158 for 5 was down to the middle-order muscle of Nabi and Najibullah Zadran. Unless they post a bigger total, it’s hard to see them challenge India.

Form guide

India WWLWW (last five completed T20Is, most recent first)
Afghanistan LWLWW

In the spotlight: Jitesh Sharma and Azmatullah Omarzai

Jitesh Sharma is among the most explosive finishers in the IPL. He’s brought that power to T20Is as well, having a strike rate of over 150 after six innings. His cameos against Australia and more recently against Afghanistan at his IPL home ground in Mohali have seen him edge ahead as India’s first-choice keeper-batter for now in T20Is. He has also been sharp behind the stumps against both pace and spin.

Azmatullah Omarzai poses a dual threat to India with his big-hitting and ability to swing the ball. In the first T20I, Omarzai showed glimpses of his skills with the bat at No.3, but Afghanistan need more from him, and he’s capable of that. If there’s some early swing on offer at the Holkar Stadium, there’s a case for Afghanistan to pair Omarzai up with Fazalhaq Farooqi in the powerplay and hold Mujeeb back for the middle and death overs.

Team news: Zazai for Rahmat?

Kohli will play his first T20I in more than a year. If Jaiswal is fit, he will replace Shubman Gill at the top. Wristspinner Ravi Bishnoi, who leaked 35 runs in three overs in the first T20I, could make way for Kuldeep Yadav. At some point in the series, India might also be tempted to test out Avesh Khan in place of a quick or a spinner.

India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal/Shubman Gill, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Shivam Dube, 5 Rinku Singh, 6 Jitesh Sharma (wk), 7 Axar Patel, 8 Washington Sundar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav/Ravi Bishnoi, 10 Arshdeep Singh, 11 Mukesh Kumar/Avesh Khan

If Hazratullah Zazai is fit and available, Afghanistan could bring him into the XI in place of Rahmat, who is more of an ODI-style batter.

Afghanistan (probable): 1 Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), 2 Hazratullah Zazai/Rahmat Shah, 3 Ibrahim Zadran (capt), 4 Azmatullah Omarzai, 5 Mohammad Nabi, 6 Najibullah Zadran, 7 Karim Janat, 8 Gulbadin Naib, 9 Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 10 Naveen-ul-Haq, 11 Fazalhaq Farooqi

Pitch and conditions: Indore is full of runs

A flat, bash-through-the-line Indore pitch, fast outfield and short boundaries are ingredients for a high-scoring T20I. The last T20I at the venue, in October 2022, produced an aggregate of 405 runs, with South Africa’s Rilee Rossouw cracking a 48-ball hundred. A clear, warm day is welcome news for players who struggled with the cold in Mohali.

Stats and trivia: Kohli on the brink of another landmark

  • Kohli is 35 runs away from becoming the first Indian – and fourth overall – to score 12,000 runs in T20 cricket.
  • Axar Patel is three strikes away from 50 T20I wickets.
  • India had lost 11 tosses in a row across formats before Rohit finally won one in Mohali.
  • Rahmat played 106 ODIs before his first T20I on Thursday. He had made his ODI debut in March 2013.
    • Quotes

      “We want to try our bowlers in different situations of the game. Like you saw, Washy [Washington] bowled the 19th over [in Mohali]. We want to challenge the bowlers in the areas they are not used to.”
      India captain Rohit Sharma

      “The bilateral series [against India] is a step in the right direction for our side. It’s an indication of the progress made by the side.”
      Afghanistan head coach Jonathan Trott

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