T20 World Cup: Afghanistan's chance to beat Kiwis and win hearts

As for New Zealand, it's simply a matter of winning this game and qualifying

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson. (AFP)
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson. (AFP)

By Sumit Chakraberty

Published: Sun 7 Nov 2021, 12:35 AM

Last updated: Sun 7 Nov 2021, 12:45 PM

Ravichandran Ashwin offered India’s physiotherapist to help Afghanistan’s injured mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman take the field on Sunday against New Zealand. It was a tongue-in-cheek remark, but it’s also true that the only way for India to get into the T20 World Cup semifinals is for Afghanistan to win, tying three teams on six points, assuming India will beat Namibia on Monday. It will come down to the net run rate, which now favours India after two massive wins over Afghanistan and Scotland. As for New Zealand, it’s simply a matter of winning this game and qualifying.


Abu Dhabi has been a low-scoring venue in day games, starting with the first Super 12 encounter between Australia and South Africa. Grass on a tacky wicket produces seam movement, which Josh Hazlewood has exploited the best by hitting a Test match length. The experienced Kiwi seamers, playing their first game of the tournament at this venue, would be just as effective as Hazlewood. Afghanistan like to bat first, and do so in cavalier fashion. But they’re more likely to succeed if they’re conservative at first and then ramp it up, bringing back an old school strategy.


Dew won’t be a factor in this day game, though chasing would still be an advantage in terms of knowing the target. We can expect New Zealand to bowl first if they win the toss. Afghanistan may want to do likewise even though they normally prefer to bat first. That’s because they need to overtake India’s net run rate. Even if they bat first, they would want enough runs on the board to win by 50 runs or more. Ironically, India’s pyrotechnics went so far that it now forces Afghanistan to play a riskier game, reducing the odds of them winning. A simple win over New Zealand won’t get them into the semifinals, unless India lose to Namibia.


Rashid Khan tweeted a reply to the Indian off-spinner — “Ashwin bhai, don’t worry, our team physio Prasanth Panchada chusukuntunnaru (‘seeing to it’ in Telugu, a language Rashid seems to know after playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL). Jokes apart, the return of Mujeeb Ur Rahman will help Rashid Khan build up pressure, as the spinners operate in tandem. They will get assistance from the tacky wicket despite the grass on it. The big ground also makes it hard for batsmen to clear the boundary. New Zealand haven’t been at their best in the heat of day games where the ball doesn’t come on to the bat as well as it does in the evening. So, if Panchada’s magic works, the spin twins will test the Kiwis.


Kiwi skipper Kane Williamson is hampered with an elbow niggle, which cramps the usual felicity with which he maneuvers the ball. But an anchor role by him, especially in a run chase, will be vital if the batting conditions are challenging. Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi also has an important hand to play as a batsman. His off-spin hasn’t been effective in this tournament so far, but he has looked the most secure in the Afghanistan batting.


Afghanistan are a popular team because of the strides they have made in the last five years, leaving more established cricketing nations like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka behind. Considering the turmoil back home, that’s a remarkable achievement. They missed a great opportunity to win a close game against Pakistan. Now they have an opportunity to win the hearts of millions of Indian fans by giving a good account of themselves in Sunday’s game.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru. Write to him at chakraberty@gmail.com

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