Jasprit Bumrah
India's Jasprit Bumrah (left) gestures as captain Virat Kohli watches during the ICC Men’s Twenty20 World Cup cricket match against New Zealand at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on October 31, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

India are fighting for survival in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. Having lost two games, India have to win the remaining three games to preserve the mathematical possibility of qualifying for the semifinals. That starts with the match against Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi tomorrow (Wednesday).

A win against Afghanistan will not be easy because they play fearless cricket. Fearlessness is ingrained in them, and it manifests their game too. Moreover, no one expects them to win the cup, which takes the pressure off them. So they play with a freedom that favourites can ill-afford. Little wonder, they are perched on the second spot behind Pakistan in Group 2 with four points, having won two of their three games.

Afghanistan players celebrate after the dismissal of Namibia's JJ Smit (not pictured) during the ICC Men’s Twenty20 World Cup cricket match against Namibia at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on October 31, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

India are languishing in the fifth slot, and only Scotland are below them. A sorry plight for a country considered hot favourites to win the tournament. Pathetic batting has been the main cause of their setbacks. A comprehensive loss to Pakistan was a mere prelude to another numbing loss to New Zealand.

That’s shocking, considering that all Indian batsmen have played the Indian Premier League this year and are fully aware of the behaviour of the UAE pitches. The wickets are slow and lacking in bounce, so it requires patience to score runs. The Indians need not look further than Ruturaj Gaikwad, the top-scorer with the Purple Cap. The way the Chennai Super Kings’ opener constructed his innings offers a template for Indian batsmen. But none seems to have taken heed.

All the Afghan aces

In the absence of healthy totals, the bowlers have been shortchanged. Despite the paltry scores, the best bowling side in the world should have at least given their rivals a scare. That hasn’t happened. Pacemen Jasprit Bumrah is the exception; that alone is enough. It could hurt against Afghanistan, who play with absolute freedom.

That freedom is visible right from the powerplay, where Zahratullah Zazai and Mohamad Zazai launch into the rivals. Even loss of wickets does not dampen their enthusiasm to blast sixes.

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Afghanistan’s power lies in the triumvirate of spinners. Captain Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb-Ur-Rahman bring different brands of spin that are difficult to negotiate. All their rivals have run into problems against 12 overs of Afghan spin, and India too will have to be wary. This means the middle-overs will be a slow burn. So the powerplay and the slog have to sizzle.

India would be odds-on favourites to win against Afghanistan, but there are not in the best frame of mind with two defeats behind them. And Afghanistan’s freewheeling game could be a banana peel India want to avoid. So a tight game is in prospect, but India should prevail.