Survival at stake as India face Afghanistan
India are in dire straits heading into their third match of the T20 World Cup against a feisty Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi today.
The pre-tournament favourites have lost their first two matches - a 10-wicket defeat against Pakistan and an eight-wicket defeat against New Zealand - and head into their clash with Afghanistan knowing only a win can keep their World Cup dream alive. They have put in is not worthy of a semi-final spot even though mathematics keeps their hopes alive.
Afghanistan, by contrast, have won two of their three opening matches, defeating Scotland by 130 runs and Namibia by 62 runs either side of an agonising five-wicket defeat against Pakistan. Mohammad Nabi's side are sitting pretty in second place and have a net run rate of +3.097, which stands them in good stead heading into the business end of the Super 12s.
India and Afghanistan have met just twice in T20Is, with India winning both encounters. However, their most recent meeting was back in September 2012.
Senior off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin's inexplicable absence from the playing XI is in focus as India skipper Virat Kohli tries to figure the combination that can bring his team's floundering campaign back on track.
Mohammed Nabi and Rashid Khan, however, would like to use all their might and T20 freelancing experience to add insult to the Indian injury and prolong the nightmare that started on October 24.
For Kohli, in probably his last three matches as T20 captain of India, one would expect some prudent team selections and it starts with the question of repeatedly ignoring a player of Ashwin's calibre.
India's batting hasn't done well in this tournament so far. However, they will expect KL Rahul to fire at the top. If Ishan Kishan plays, he is likely to move to the middle order and Rohit Sharma back in the opening slot. It will be interesting to see if Suryakumar Yadav will be back in the playing XI and for whom.
Afghanistan's new ball bowlers -- the experienced Hamid Hasan and young Naveen ul Haq -- are certainly good but on their day, KL Rahul and Rohit could just send them on a leather-hunt.
After two bad games, that's exactly what they would want at a new venue.
Against Afghanistan, the middle-overs, during which the peerless Rashid Khan operates, will be crucial.
If Mujeeb Ur Rahman is fit to play, Afghanistan will play three high-quality spin bowlers. Rashid Khan is in a great rhythm and will be a threat for the Indian batters.