Dubai, Sep 24: The Indian cricket team will hope that its untested middle-order gets some game time ahead of the grand finale when it takes on an ever-improving Afghanistan in the final ‘Super Four’ encounter of the Asia Cup here Tuesday.
India has been on a roll after an unimpressive start against Hong Kong, with a couple of one-sided victories over arch-rivals Pakistan and an equally facile one against Bangladesh.
With a spot in Friday’s final sealed, skipper Rohit Sharma may want some of his untested middle-order batsmen to get quality time in the middle against someone of Rashid Khan’s calibre.
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Often in cricket, the ‘Law of Averages’ catches up with the best performing teams at a critical juncture.
Shikhar Dhawan (327) and skipper Rohit (269) have done the bulk of the scoring in the four matches so far with very little contribution being required from the other batsmen in the line-up.
The next highest scorer is Ambati Rayudu (116 runs) because he comes in at No 3.
The problem has been lack of batting time for the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik so far.
Sample this: Rohit and Shikhar have so far faced 284 and 321 deliveries respectively. The next best Rayudu has played 162 balls.
However, Karthik (78 balls), Dhoni (40 balls) and Kedar (27 balls) can be found wanting if there is a top-order collapse on the big day.
Rohit had given Dhoni an opportunity to come in at No 4 against Bangladesh and the former captain scored 33 runs. But it was a pressure-free situation.
Dhoni’s Achilles heel of late has been to keep the scoreboard ticking in pressure situations that the middle-overs throw up.
If the likes of Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman can put pressure, it will be a good warm-up for the middle-order trio before the final match.
The Indian captain might fancy batting first in case he wins the toss, which in turn will give his team a chance to bat 50 overs instead of chasing another modest total.
The Indian bowlers have been splendid on the slow Dubai International Stadium track with all the bowlers enjoying an economy rate of fewer than five runs per over.
The spinners have been on a roll with Yuzvendra Chahal (5 wickets at 4.61 runs per over) and Kuldeep Yadav (5 wickets in 4.01 runs per over) have been tight as usual while Jasprit Bumrah (7 wickets with 3.37 runs per over) has been exceptional at the death with his yorkers.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar (6 wickets at 4.08 per over), in his comeback tournament, has also been consistent.
There is a possibility that India might rest both Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah before the summit clash to help them recharge their batteries.
In such a scenario, two among Deepak Chahar, Siddharth Kaul and Khaleel Ahmed will take their spots in the playing XI for the game.
For Afghanistan, a win against the fancied Indian side will be a great end to the tournament where they have been competitive throughout, only losing out due to lack of experience.
Having packed off Sri Lanka in the group league stage and crushed Bangladesh, Afghanistan was done in by inexperience during the fag end of the Super Four matches against Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Against Pakistan, their bowlers couldn’t hold nerve in the final over while their batsmen found it difficult to read Mustafizur Rahman’s variations in the final over.
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar, Siddharth Kaul, Manish Pandey
Afghanistan: Mohammad Shahzad, Ihsanulluah Jamat, Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Stanikzai, Hasmat Shahidi, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Najibullah Zadran, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Aftab Alam, Samiullah Shenwari, Munir Ahmed, Sayed Ahmed Sherzad, Ashraf, Momand Wafadar.
Match starts 5pm (IST).