India's players react during their match against Sri Lanka in Dubai on Tuesday. File / AP
Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
A beleaguered and battered Indian cricket team will look to salvage some pride with a victory over Afghanistan in their last Asia Cup match on Thursday.
After two successive humiliating losses against Pakistan and less-fancied Sri Lanka, India are almost out of the tournament. Indiaâ€™s hopes of qualification hangs by a thread, depending on the results of the other matches.
India, who came into the tournament as favourites, were beaten by underdogs Lanka. Their defeat against Lanka also ruled out an India-Pakistan final, disappointing one-and-half billion fans.
India were let down by their bowling attack, which failed to defend a fighting total of 181 and 175 against Pakistan and Lanka respectively.
They campaign was also plagued by several injury issues, which compounded their problems. However, the kind of pace attack they brought into the tournament was never good enough to help them realize their title dreams.
India badly felt the absence of a genuine pace bowler throughout the tournament, while players like Omran Malik, Mohammad Shami and Mohammad Siraj are bowling in the nets back home. Indian captain Rohit Sharma justified the selection and said this is the right combination.
â€œI donâ€™t think there is anything wrong with the team. We are going to the World Cup with the same squad more or less. There can be a little variation, may be five pe cent,â€ said Rohit.
Rohit seems totally baffled with team selection. He is not clear in his mind why he is picking up certain players in playing XI. India experimented in every game, without thinking about the consequences.
They got off to a winning start against Pakistan but dropped Hardik Pandya in the next match Hong Kong. They tried Rishabh Pant along with Dinesh Karthik as India played with two wicket-keepers. Pant, who was included to get some match practice, did not get a chance to bat and Karthik was dropped from the playing XI in the next match.
Deepak Hooda was brought in for injured Ravindra Jadeja. But he did not get a chance to bowl against Pakistan. Ravi Bishnoi, who also came into the squad, bowled pretty well and conceded only 26 runs in 4 overs, picking up on wicket was left out and Ravichandran Ashwin was given a chance against Sri Lanka.
Opening has also been a problem for India. Rohit clicked after three matches against Lanka while KL Rahul is yet to show any sign of getting back into the form. He seems to have reserved his best for the last match.
With the World Cup only one-and-half-month away, India seems to have too many holes to plug. They have to resolve the issues like that of the opening pair, first-choice wicket-keeper, a faltering middle-order and a tooth-less attack.
However, captain Rohit looks unfazed by the result, singing away the night of sorrow, hoping the luck will brighten their tomorrow. His casual attitude after the loss reminded us the of the immortal lines of great Khushwant Singh.
There is every reason that India should be wary of Afghanistan threat. Afghanistan are renowned for playing a fire brand and fearless cricket.
India were beaten by the same Sri Lanka team, who were mauled by Afghanistan in the first match. Afghanistan started their campaign with convincing wins against Lanka and Bangladesh, before losing the momentum in their last match.
After moving into the second round, Afghanistan must be upbeat with the prospect of winning the maiden Asian title. They have to win their remaining two games.
The spin trio of Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman can rip through any batting line-up of the world. They play in the different franchise leagues of the world like IPL and PSL. They have a lot of experience which they bring into the national team with them.
Mujeeb and Rashid had shared six wickets between them to set up a win against Bangladesh. Mujeeb triggered the collapse and Rashid followed the suit.
Their pace attack is also quite good, spearheaded by Fazalhaq Farooqi, who took three wickets on the turning pitch of Sharjah.
In batting, they have some clean hitters of the ball, who can score at the rate of 12 an over if needed. Hazaratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Ibrahim Zadran and Najibullah Zadran can tear apart any bowling attack of the world.
They will pin hopes on the top four. If either of them manages to stay there till the end then it can be a problem for India as they can change the complexion of any game with their powerful hitting.