Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - World Cup fever: NZ v Afghanistan has all the symptoms. Can Rashid Khan keep Afghanistan and India's hopes alive?
Can Rashid Khan keep Afghanistan and India's hopes alive?
Just how did we get here?
Two teams, who have never played each other outside of World Cups, and never in a T20 International before, are ready to match wits as if they have been at it for generations. There's little history to this rivalry, a great deal of cordial indifference and absolutely no bad blood, and yet here we are on pins and needles, getting the heebie-jeebies theorizing who will come out victorious. Remarkably, it could neither be New Zealand nor Afghanistan.
India will be uncomfortably invested in this game, and in no small measure due to their own doing earlier in the tournament. All they can do on Sunday is hope for a favourable result — not to lock a semifinal spot but to stay in contention. Which should suggest that these are unchartered territories in about a decade for India, their billion-strong fan base and the untold sponsorship riches they come in with, and one team in Abu Dhabi will have all the support they can wish for. That team won't be New Zealand.
While there's only ever been two ODIs between the sides, the lack of familiarity between New Zealand and Afghanistan adds a bit of fancy to this lovely contest at our hands. Consider this: Kane Williamson has spent five seasons alongside Rashid Khan at Sunrisers Hyderabad but only ever faced him for 10 balls in T20 cricket. This would have been a box-office matchup anyway, but to have two greats of the game engage for the very first time on the international stage, and at this juncture of an ICC tournament, will be breathtaking to watch.
This perhaps is also Afghanistan's last-ditch attempt at coming of age. They usurped the likes of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to gain direct qualification into the Super 12s, but have hardly lived up to that billing. Having lost to powerhouses Pakistan and India, Williamson's New Zealand is their last chance saloon for deliverance. It's important that they do so, for reasons far more important than cricket itself.
For New Zealand, the story has been that of a steady rise. They started with a loss to Pakistan, playing them first-up as a part of a really tough itinerary, but the elements are now starting to miraculously come together. What if this is the fickle T20 format and the World Cup is being played in the cruelly low, slow and hot conditions of the UAE? New Zealand remain a force and are once again sneaking their way up several lists, including ours.
When: New Zealand v Afghanistan, 7 November 2021, 3:30pm IST
Where: Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi
What to expect: A lot of eyes on this match. Ish Sodhi is expecting a “good batting surface” in Abu Dhabi, where New Zealand haven't played a game yet, and is hoping to work with the bounce that the pitch is likely to have.
Trends wise, 4 out of the last 6 games here have been won by the side batting first. That said, the afternoon games have panned out a bit differently, with the chasing team coming out victorious in 6 out of the 7 games so far. That, though, is unlikely to influence Afghanistan who prefer batting first and would be itching to do so after their game against India. New Zealand have won half their games batting first and won't mind losing a tricky toss; the dew will not be a factor anyway.
Injury/Availability Concerns: Ish Sodhi was hit on his head while bowling against Namibia but has held up well. He woke up with a “bit of a headache,” he said, but the procedures in place have ruled out the possibility of a concussion. The news must come as a great relief to New Zealand who have built their middle-overs game plan around spin-twins Sodhi and Mitchell Santner.
Tactics and Matchups: While the focus will be on New Zealand's batting against spin, their powerplay bowling could well shape up this contest. Afghanistan have been known to go hard in the first six overs; they have scored 55, 49, 50 and 47 runs in powerplays so far, and haven't veered away from the big-hitting approach despite losing wickets. They will test Trent Boult and Tim Southee who have some mid-course corrections to do in terms of picking wickets upfront. New Zealand have picked only four powerplay wickets so far, the least among all Super 12 teams, and will like to do better.
Probable XI: Martin Guptill, Daryl Mitchell, Kane Williamson(c), Devon Conway(w), Glenn Phillips, James Neesham, Mitchell Santner, Adam Milne, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi, Trent Boult
Injury/Availability Concerns: Mujeeb Ur Rahman has missed the last two games with an injury and 24 hours out from the match, his teammate Hashmatullah Shahidi wasn't sure of the spinner's recovery. Ravichandran Ashwin, though, was quick to offer tongue-in-cheek physio support to Mujeeb a couple of days ago, hoping to get the Afghan spinner back on the park against New Zealand. Where that stands is anyone's guess.
Tactics and Matchups: Mujeeb bowled his 8 overs for 6-34 but his injury replacements haven't quite been the same kind of support to Rashid Khan. Naveen-ul-Haq was expensive against India (0-59) and Mohammad Nabi has bowled his full quota only once. It will be crucial for Afghanistan to get their spin act together, and more so against New Zealand who like to play around Williamson.
Probable XI: Hazratullah Zazai, Mohammad Shahzad(w), Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi(c), Karim Janat, Gulbadin Naib, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Rashid Khan, Naveen-ul-Haq/Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Hamid Hassan
Did you know?
What they said
“About the team campaign, we only focus on ourselves, our team. Our main focus is how we qualify for semifinals. So we will go with that” – Hashmatullah Shahidi is not in the mood for any favours
“We're really aware of the strengths that Afghanistan bring both with the bat and the ball, especially in the spin bowling attack. If we get the basics right for a long enough period of time, keep doing the things we've been doing well, I think we'll give ourselves a good chance” – Ish Sodhi is confident of New Zealand's chances