A week after failing the Shaheen Shah Afridi test, India’s batters will expect yet another stern examination against Trent Boult & Co. in a must-win T20 World Cup contest against New Zealand at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium here on Sunday.
While Afridi is still raw and quick, his senior left-arm pacer Boult not only is more experienced but also perhaps better knows the strengths and weaknesses of India’s batters. Having been a regular in the Indian Premier League, Boult and his colleagues in the pace department – veteran Tim Southee and quickie Adam Milne – are used to bowling regularly to all of India’s batters.
The last time these two teams faced each other in a World Cup – the semifinal in 2019 – the Kiwi pacers rolled over India’s top-order, Boult accounting for captain Virat Kohli. Having just faced a similar disaster versus Pakistan in its tournament opener, India will be hoping to avert a top-order collapse in a crucial tie.
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While the attention will be on whether India ropes in Ishan Kishan and Shardul Thakur in place of Hardik Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, respectively, the onus will be on India’s top three to get off to a start and set the platform for the middle-order to show its hitting prowess.
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With Rohit Sharma and K. L. Rahul succumbing to Afridi’s artistry, captain Kohli was forced to grind his way to a fifty. Come Sunday, all three of them will have to come out all guns blazing. If they can get off to a flier, the likes of Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant and Hardik (or Ishan) can take the game away from the Black Caps in the latter half. Besides, it will also give more leeway for India’s bowlers to come into play.
All eyes on Varun
Rookie Varun Chakravarthy couldn’t really deliver the goods under pressure against Pakistan in the opening game but with the Kiwi batters – barring the stylish Kane Williamson – not having faced him earlier, India will be banking on Varun to earn wickets with his mystery spin.
If he can spin a web on the opposition, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami can run in with an intent to pick wickets rather than contain. India will be looking forward to all the wheels of its chariot moving in sync to enable it to open its account.
Despite being a critical tie, the game will not be a virtual quarterfinal. Afghanistan, after all, has shown enough glimpses of being the giant-slayer, if not the dark horse, in the group.