Fans meet their heroes. This line encapsulates the India-Afghanistan Asia Cup match to be played on Wednesday. Afghanistan players worship their Indian counterparts, but the one they consider their hero will not play tomorrow. MS Dhoni’s absence has left even the Afghans disappointed. “Dhoni is extremely popular within our team. We would have loved to play against him,” Afghanistan manager Shafiqllah Stanikzai said. (Full Coverage Asia Cup 2014)
This would be the first-ever ODI between the two sides and they have completely different goals. Pakistan’s win over Bangladesh means India are out of the tournament. So a win on Wednesday will be only a consolation for the Indian team.
Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka have gained a bonus point against Afghanistan, but this is an Indian team short on wins and low on confidence. And with a bowling attack that does not inspire confidence.
The full squad was at practice on Tuesday, despite the fact that the training session was optional. Ambati Rayudu defended the management’s decision to not make attendance at training sessions mandatory.
“We’ve been working very hard, as much as any other team, if not more. Moreover, we’ve played back-to-back games, three matches in five days. And it’s not only us. No team has practiced after back-to-back games. We’ve been travelling from South Africa to New Zealand and then here. We landed and played a game in just two days. The players are going through fatigue as well,” he said.
The players, however, looked very intense during their two-hour practice session. Shikhar Dhawan batted at a separate net and looked to be concentrating on his back-lift and feet movement.
The Delhi opener has been facing the second season blues and has just one half-century in his last nine ODI innings. His poor form has dented India’s chances with just two 50-plus opening partnerships in their last 10 matches.
India also have posted just one 300-plus total since leaving for foreign shores in December last year. At one corner of the ground, coach Duncan Fletcher was busy with Ajinkya Rahane. Fletcher advised Rahane about his elbow position. Rahane listened intently. But every time these youngsters are going out to bat in the middle, they’re looking to be putting extra pressure on themselves.
As for the bowling, medium-pacer Ishwar Pandey had a long stint in the nets. This match is now a perfect opportunity to check the bench strength.
Afghanistan have played against India in international cricket before — at the World T20 in 2012. Then, Lakshmipathy Balaji’s three-for and Virat Kohli’s fifty proved to be too much for them.
In their first big ODI event, Afghanistan have already made a mark with their win over Bangladesh. They would be keen to impress their Indian idols. In Shapoor Zadran, they have a bowler who can make the best of the Indian batsmen hop.