Having begun their year with back-to-back wins, albeit in different formats, Team India face Afghanistan in the second of three T20Is in Indore on Sunday aiming to clinch the series with a game to spare. Rohit Sharma and Co began the year with a historic victory in the New Year’s Test against South Africa in Cape Town, and managed to recover from a rusty start to beat Afghanistan in the first T20I in Mohali on Thursday. They head to the second T20I as firm favourites for a victory that will give them their first series win of the year.
Afghanistan might not be the most fancied of teams in the international game but they are every bit a competitive unit in the shortest format thanks to their players plying their trade in T20 leagues all over the world, including and especially the Indian Premier League. An India victory in Sunday’s fixture therefore, should not be a matter of automatic assumption in the build-up to the game.
That, however, might just be the case for many an Indian experts and fans, whose focus instead will likely be fixed on the return of one Virat Kohli to Twenty20 Internationals.
Both Rohit and Kohli had been selected for this series and were set to make their comeback into the Indian team after more than a year. Only Rohit featured in Thursday’s match however, with Kohli missing out of the game due to personal reasons.
— BCCI (@BCCI) January 13, 2024
Kohli is available for selection for the second game, though, and will make his first T20I appearance since the T20 World Cup semi-final defeat against England in November 2022. Kohli had been in fine run in that tournament, producing one of the most memorable knocks of his career against Pakistan.
Both Kohli and Rohit, however, had come under criticism for their style of batting that was seen as suited for the longer formats but outdated for T20s, resulting in the duo stepping away from the shortest format and allowing Hardik Pandya to build a brand new side without them.
Their red-hot form in the recent ICC World Cup at home, where Kohli and Rohit finished first and second respectively in the leading run-scorers’ list, might have prompted the BCCI to bring them back into the T20I fold heading into this year’s T20 World Cup in the West Indies and USA. Rohit was also at his absolute best as a leader in the ODI World Cup, and the board would have been eager to see that carry over to the shorter of the two white-ball formats.
Though he had featured in the Mohali game, Rohit will be hoping to make a proper comeback in Indore after being dismissed for a two-ball duck in the series opener following a horrible mix-up with opening partner Shubman Gill. Rohit had stormed off the pitch in a fit of rage, blasting Gill for not responding to his call at the start of India’s chase, and the latter will be a lot more cautious when walking out to bat on Sunday, keeping both his eyes as well as his ears wide open.
That is if Gill gets picked ahead of left-handed batter Yashasvi Jaiswal for a second game running. Jaiswal had been benched to accommodate returning skipper Rohit, but might very well get an opportunity at the Holkar Stadium. And to accommodate the returning Kohli, Tilak Varma will likely make way after batting at the one-down slot three days ago.
Additionally, the spotlight will also fall on Shivam Dube, who starred in the victory at Mohali’s IS Bindra PCA Stadium with an all-round performance that has suddenly thrust him into the picture as far as India’s squad for the mega event later this summer is concerned.
The Chennai Super Kings all-rounder first conceded just nine runs in just two overs for the wicket of Afghan captain Ibrahim Zadran before finishing the job with the bat, smashing an unbeaten 60 off 40 deliveries that helped the Indians recover from 28/2 after being set 159 to win, and chasing the target down with six wickets and two-and-a-half overs to spare.
When asked about the possibility of representing India in the T20 World Cup later this year after the Asian Games in Hangzhou recently, Dube admitted it “definitely” was on his mind. The all-rounder, however, has set his focus on the task at hand for now, and is taking it one match at a time.
“Any player playing in the team aims to play in the World Cup. It’s definitely in my mind to play the World Cup, but it’s far away. Right now, I am aiming to play tomorrow’s game and take it on a match-by-match basis.
“It was a good performance in the last game, and the aim would be to better it in the next game, contributing across departments and helping the side win,” Dube told reporters on the eve of the 2nd T20I in Indore.
The Holkar Stadium is known to be a batting paradise where the average team score batting first is more than 200. With both sides packed with power hitters in their lineup, Dube felt that the team that bowled better on the day would ultimately walk away with a victory.
“It’s a batting-friendly wicket. So, it would be tough for the bowlers. But, the team that bowls well on this track is likely to emerge victorious,” the Mumbaikar added.
India: Rohit Sharma(c), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shivam Dube, Jitesh Sharma(wk), Rinku Singh, Axar Patel, Washington Sundar, Ravi Bishnoi, Arshdeep Singh, Mukesh Kumar, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Sanju Samson, Tilak Varma, Kuldeep Yadav, Avesh Khan
Afghanistan: Rahmanullah Gurbaz(wk), Ibrahim Zadran(c), Azmatullah Omarzai, Rahmat Shah, Mohammad Nabi, Najibullah Zadran, Karim Janat, Gulbadin Naib, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Naveen-ul-Haq, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Hazratullah Zazai, Fareed Ahmad Malik, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Ikram Alikhil, Qais Ahmad, Noor Ahmad, Mohammad Saleem Safi