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The Hindu
The Hindu
Rakesh Rao

Ind vs Afg T20 | Opportunity for aspirants to stake a claim for T20 World Cup spots

India’s last series in the shortest format before the T20 World Cup in June offers hope for some aspirants, opportunities for the regulars and the desperate.

The three-match series against Afghanistan starting at PCA Stadium here on Thursday will also witness how an inexperienced Indian pace trio deals with the free-stroking Afghans.

With Virat Kohli missing the opening match citing personal reasons, skipper Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill and Kuldeep Yadav are the only regulars in the squad.

Prominent absentees

The notable absentees are K. L. Rahul, the injured duo of Hardik Pandya and Suryakumar Yadav, a left out Shreyas Iyer, pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammad Siraj.

Most of these absentees should return for the World Cup. Assuming that Rinku Singh has done enough to merit a place in the World Cup squad, it will be interesting to see how aspirants like Yashaswi Jaiswal, Tilak Varma, Shivam Dube, Washington Sundar, Axar Patel, Sanju Samson, fellow-wicketkeeper Jitesh Sharma, Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan, Mukesh Kumar and Ravi Bishnoi could make the cut.

Of the lot, Samson will be under tremendous pressure to justify his presence in the team. Since his debut in July 2015, in 21 batting opportunities in 24 outings, Samson has scored just 374 runs with an average of 19.68 against oppositions like Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and West Indies.

Despite 15 innings - out of 21 - ending with sub-20 scores, Samson should consider himself lucky to be chosen ahead of an unavailable Ishan Kishan. With the selectors keen on seeing more of Samson, Jitesh Sharma can hope to get a look in a dead rubber.

It is a good opportunity for Washington Sundar and Axar Patel to stake their claim for a World Cup spot as spin-options behind the regular choices. Pacers Arshdeep, Avesh and Mukesh will look to make the most of the conditions here.

The Afghans, even without Rashid Khan who is still not match-fit, are clearly sensing a chance against this Indian combination. The confidence of having done well on Indian pitches in the recent World Cup has much to do with this optimism. Top-order batters Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, skipper Ibrahim Zadran and all-rounder Azmatullah Omarzai have the skill-sets to ambush the host. Bowlers Fazalhaq Farooqi, Naveen-ul-Haq, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb-ur-Rahman are all well accustomed to the Indian conditions.

After all, in the past decade, Dehradun and Greater Noida have proved Afghanistan’s training grounds with the BCCI doing its bit to promote cricket in what was once a war-torn nation. At present, Afghanistan has a team that wears the label of being unpredictable, like no other.

The teams (from):

India: Rohit Sharma (Captain), Shubman Gill, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Tilak Varma, Rinku Singh, Jitesh Sharma (wk), Sanju Samson (wk), Shivam Dube, Washington Sundar, Axar Patel, Ravi Bishnoi, Kuldeep Yadav, Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan and Mukesh Kumar.

Afghanistan: Ibrahim Zadran (Captain), Hazrratullah Zazai, Ikram Alikhil (wk), Najibullah Zadran, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Azmatullah Omarzai, Gulbadin Naib, Karim Janat, Mohammad Nabi, Rahmat Shah, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Fareed Ahmad, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Mohammad Saleem, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Naveen-ul-Haq, Noor Ahmad and Qais Ahmad.

Match starts at 7 p.m.

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