SOUTHAMPTON, England — The scoreboard may need as much preparation and care as the wicket ahead of the June 22 anticipated run-fest when India seeks to follow title rival England by thumping Afghanistan at the Cricket World Cup.
India and England remain the bookmakers’ favorites to contest the July 14 final at Lord’s. That’s despite unbeaten New Zealand and a resurgent Australia, which has lost only once — against India — in six games.
India will be aiming to give a proper run to its new-look batting unit. Opener Shikhar Dhawan has been ruled out of the tournament, leaving KL Rahul to be permanent partner for in-form Rohit Sharma at the top of the order.
Sharma has scores of 122 not out, 57 and 140 in three matches thus far, while Virat Kohli – with 177 runs – will be aiming to register his first three-figure score of this tournament.
Attacking keeper-batsman Rishabh Pant has been drafted in to the 15-man squad as cover for Dhawan, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be including in the starting XI.
All-rounder Vijay Shankar made an impact with his bowling on World Cup debut in the win over archrival Pakistan June 16 but he didn’t bat at No. 4 at Old Trafford. The jury is still out on his batting impact, and team management may be tempted to pick Pant.
Shankar was also hit on the toe by paceman Jasprit Bumrah during practice June 19, and that also makes him a doubtful starter.
“Personally, I have got a lot better and hopefully I will,” play, Shankar said June 21. “Making my debut against Pakistan gave me a lot of confidence. It was a very special thing for me, performing under pressure and coming out good.”
If it’s any consolation for Afghanistan’s batsmen, they will be facing a changed India bowling lineup.
Bumrah will be partnering Mohammad Shami with the new ball after Bhuvneshwar Kumar was sidelined for a minimum two games because of a hamstring strain. Shami led India’s attack at the 2015 World Cup but hasn’t played an ODI cricket since March.
Left-arm orthodox spinner Ravindra Jadeja and veteran backup wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik are the two other players in the India squad without any game time at the tournament, but that isn’t expected to change.
India is unbeaten so far and has already had wins over defending champion Australia, South Africa and Pakistan after being the last team to gets its campaign started. It also picked up a point from a washed-out game against New Zealand.
Whether batting or bowling first, Afghanistan will find the going tough against 2011 champion India, one of the pre-tournament favorites. Having lost all five games, the Afghans are still recovering from the hammering against England in Manchester.
England tallied 397-6, the highest total of the tournament so far and the sixth-highest ever at a World Cup. Eoin Morgan smashed a world record 17 sixes in his 71-ball 148, posting the fourth-fastest World Cup century in the process.
He was particularly harsh against Afghanistan’s star legspinner Rashid Khan, who conceded a World Cup-record 110 runs off his bowling.
But Rashid, who entered the World Cup as one of the top-ranked bowlers in limited-overs cricket, isn’t likely to be deterred.
“Every player has faced such tough days. So it was one bad day for Rashid,” Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib said. “He is not an easy bowler to pick. We know because we play him regularly in the nets. Credit goes to England, they played him very well.”
Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne rated England as the best team against spin at this tournament, but India is the team most likely to challenge that.
If it bats first at Hampshire’s Rose Bowl, India will likely be targeting Afghanistan for the biggest total of the tournament so far.
The highest World Cup total is 417-6 by Australia against Afghanistan in Perth enroute to the title in 2015. India is second with 413-5 against Bermuda in 2007.
If India wants a benchmark for Southampton, it can always look at England’s win over the West Indies. The good news? England reached a comparatively modest 213 runs for the loss of two wickets. The bad news? It had almost 17 overs left.