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India set out for answers against much-improved Afghanistan

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ESPN Shorts: Mohammad Shahzad (1:43)

Can this heavy-hitter help cause some upsets in the Asia Cup? (1:43)

Big picture

It's been a while since India have played Afghanistan in a limited-overs game. Their last meeting was also at an Asia Cup, in 2014. It was long before Afghanistan had so much as given a hint that they would transform into the exciting force they are these days. India won on that occasion, by eight wickets, in a complete mismatch, but that will hardly be the case this time around, though they will come up against a largely similar batting line-up.

Afghanistan's batsmen have fired in every match this tournament, and on the occasions they've won or come close to winning, their spinners have been as menacing as ever. It might not even be a stretch to say that they've consistently been the second-best team in the tournament without having the results to show for it.

For that reason, India will be somewhat relieved that this fixture comes with their spot in the final already sealed and Afghanistan's elimination already confirmed. In the short-term, it allows them a day to possibly stretch their roster and get their middle-order batsmen some practice ahead of the final, and in the long term, find more answers ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

Form guide

India WWWWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Afghanistan LLWWW

In the spotlight

India's batting order outside the top-three is still not clear. KL Rahul was among the No. 4 aspirants last year, but his non-inclusion in any of the games so far hints that he might now be seen as only a back-up opener. Ostensibly, this would mean that Ambati Rayudu, who is now batting at No. 3 in the absence of Virat Kohli, has pushed ahead of Rahul for the No. 4 race, and will tussle with the likes of Dinesh Karthik and Manish Pandey. Over the last year, India have even occasionally promoted Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni to No. 4, making it even more unclear as to who has most trust from the management. The Afghanistan game will give them another opportunity to scan middle-order candidates.

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3:00

Manjrekar: India should rest Dhawan and play Rahul

Also, Ajit Agarkar feels Bhuvneshwar Kumar could be given a day off and left-arm quick Khaleel Ahmed could slot into the XI

At No. 3, Rahmat Shah has both the technique and the numbers to back up the claim that he is Afghanistan's best batsman. Shah got a 72 against Sri Lanka in the tournament opener, and his 36 against Pakistan on Friday stopped a potential collapse. But in both those cases, Shah couldn't carry himself into the final stages of the innings, and when Afghanistan chased for the first time against Bangladesh on Sunday, Shah was run out for 1. In his final shot in the tournament, against one of the best sides in the world, he will look to tighten up and bat long.

Team news

Both teams chose to forego training and press conferences ahead of the game, and there are no indications of team changes as a result. But India could be tempted to shuffle their batting around and bring back Khaleel Ahmed to ease the load on some of their players.

India (possible XI): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Shikhar Dhawan/KL Rahul, 3 Ambati Rayudu, 4 Manish Pandey, 5 MS Dhoni/Dinesh Karthik (wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar/Siddarth Kaul, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Jasprit Bumrah/Khaleel Ahmed, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal

Afghanistan's seamers haven't had the best of times, and that could tempt them to make a few changes. Left-arm seamer Sayed Shirzad, and 18-year old right-arm fast bowler Wafadar Momand could both be in line for ODI debuts.

Afghanistan (possible XI): 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Ihsanullah/Munir Ahmad, 3 Rahmat Shah, 4 Asghar Afghan (capt), 5 Hashmatullah Shahidi, 6 Mohammad Nabi, 7 Samiullah Shenwari/Najibullah Zadran, 8 Gulbadin Naib/Sayed Shirzad, 9 Rashid Khan, 10 Aftab Alam/Wafadar Momand, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman

Pitch and conditions

This will be Afghanistan's first match in Dubai this tournament, but they won't be greeted with conditions that will be too different from Abu Dhabi, both in terms of temperature and the surface. The average temperature is expected to be 37 degrees celsius and no rain is predicted.

Stats and trivia

  • MS Dhoni needs 95 more to complete 10,000 runs for India in ODIs, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar needs four wickets to reach 100.

  • Among the top three run-scorers this tournament, Hashmatullah Shahidi (263 runs, 17 fours, no sixes) has hit significantly fewer boundaries than Shikhar Dhawan (327 runs, 41 fours, three sixes) and Rohit Sharma (269 runs, 22 fours, 10 sixes)