Having spent close to three months in Australia, India finally have a chance to log their first win. Forget that this is just a warm-up game against minnows Afghanistan. After their recent battering in Tests and one-dayers, the defending champions badly need to get back to winning ways.
Eyes will also be firmly fixed on Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s fitness; the management is hopeful that the bowler has completely recovered for the Afghan clash.
While Ishant Sharma had flunked the fitness test last Saturday and ruled himself out of the quadrennial showpiece, starting February 14, Kumar went through the paces and was declared fit to play India’s first warm-up game against Australia. He bowled only five overs though, giving away 31 runs without success. “I’ve fully recovered at the moment. The last three-four days have been really good for me and I’m ready to play,” the swing bowler had said on the match eve.
But uncertainty looms, nonetheless. To start with, the team management is planning to use him sparingly during the group phase. Also, Dhawal Kulkarni, the Mumbai medium-pacer, has been asked to stay back as cover. The whole approach looks a bit surprising. In Adelaide on Tuesday, Kumar’s match fitness would be assessed once again. Severely undercooked, he needs a lot more overs under his belt before the main event.
In less than a week India open their World Cup campaign against Pakistan on February 15 and yet, the bowling combination looks far from settled. All five fast bowlers were used against Australia and it suggested the captain’s dilemma.
Together the seamers conceded 269 runs in 35.2 overs (economy rate 7.64) in the first game. This came on the heels of an average tri-series where Umesh Yadav took two wickets for 97 runs in two matches; Mohammed Shami got two for 98 in four; Stuart Binny picked up four for 67 in three and Mohit Sharma returned with two for 36 in the only game he played.
Kumar featured in two matches and got one wicket for 62 runs. Before that, the only Test he played, the final match in Sydney, he conceded 122 runs in 34 overs without a wicket in the first innings and had improved a little in the second with one for 46 in eight overs. The 26-year-old had missed the first three Tests due to injury.
With 44 ODIs, Kumar is the most experienced bowler available in the seam attack. Also, following Ishant’s departure, he is expected to lead the pack. But it remains to be seen whether Kumar, with a question mark over his match fitness, can take over that load. His performance against Afghanistan will be an assessment of his fitness level. It will also indicate his potency as a strike bowler.
Afghans no pushovers
Afghanistan, who start their campaign against Bangladesh on February 18, are hungry to make an impact in their maiden 50-over World Cup outing. Led by the experienced Mohammad Nabi, the side boasts of some impact players like left-arm pacer Shapoor Zadran, young pacer Aftab Alam and former skipper and solid middle-order batsman Nawroz Mangal to name a few.
The team that only got full one-day status in 2011 is dreaming big and Nabi claims the side will be no pushovers. “We have been working hard for the past 4-5 months and our aim is to get to the next stage. We are all excited as a unit and hopefully we can live up to the expectations of our fans back home,” said Nabi on the sidelines of the team’s net session. Live ON Star Sports 1, 9AM —(With inputs from PTI)