With change in format, Afghanistan look to change fortunes against West Indies too
With 12 months to go for the T20 World Cup, both teams will look to make positive strides in the opening game of the series
Afghanistan must be hurting. Playing hosts to West Indies in their adopted home in India, their ODI campaign went so badly that the team's losing streak in the format extended to 12 by the end of the series. There's a mismatch in the philosophy of their batting (defensive) and bowling (attacking) units, and that gulf appears to have become deeper after the recent integration of a few young batsmen in the squad.
But T20Is are Afghanistan's best format. With a stockpile of mystery spinners and a batting unit that goes deep (if not always big) Afghanistan have made oppositions, especially when in the subcontinent, wary.
There's only one problem, though: they appear to have forgotten the art of winning.
Last month, they shared the tri-nation T20I series trophy in Bangladesh because of a washed-out final. Prior to the title clash, they had lost two in a row, to Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
T20I defeats used to be rare for Afghanistan, back-to-back losses even more, but the only team since 2017 to hand them that fate in a bilateral series are West Indies.
Although the West Indies side that blanked Afghanistan 3-0 in 2017 is vastly different from the squad that is touring India currently, there are a few similarities. The side is rejuvenated under a new captain - Kieron Pollard - and the influx of a new set of cricketers after the latest Caribbean Premier League season gives them an opportunity to blindside Afghanistan since they have seen very little of these players.
What used to be Afghanistan's advantage earlier has now shifted away from them, and if the visitors can negate the spin threat Afghanistan possess, there's no reason why West Indies cannot top Afghanistan in the T20I series too.
Afghanistan LLWWW (completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies LLLLL
In the spotlight
Mujeeb Ur Rahman has, for long, been the junior in the trio of spinners Afghanistan have unleashed on their opponents. But as teams focused more and more on not giving wickets to Rashid Khan, they have ended up exposing themselves to Mujeeb's guiles. The teenager was Afghanistan's highest wicket-taker in the ODIs against West Indies, and earlier this year was the most successful spinner at the Shpageeza Premier League as well. In 2019, Mujeeb's gone wicketless only once and takes a wicket every 15.66 runs. Not once has he conceded more than 30 runs in T20Is this year and as a new-ball bowler, the tone Mujeeb sets against a West Indian opening unit - that hasn't seen much of him - may just be the difference between West Indies scoring a middling score and a big one.
Opening batsman Brandon King made a useful 39 in his national debut for West Indies in their win in the third ODI and it won't be surprising if he walks into the T20I team as well after a fantastic CPL 2019. A ninth-round pick during the CPL draft, King smacked 496 runs in 12 innings, at an average of 55.11 and a strike rate of 149.94 as an opener for Guyana Amazon Warriors to break down the door that was stopping him from wearing the West Indies maroon. A right-hand batsman who prefers hitting straight rather than square, the potential for King to make an impact in his first T20I series is massive. He's a traditional stroke player, something missing among most of West Indies' white-ball batsmen these days, and if he can get into his zone swiftly against Afghanistan, King has shown that the longer he stays in the middle, the more dangerous he gets.
There are plenty of youngsters in both squads, and with the T20 World Cup only 12 months away, expect a few new faces in the XIs. West Indies, however, will be without Nicholas Pooran, who was handed a four-match ban for ball tampering in the ODI series.
Afghanistan (possible): 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Ibrahim Zadran, 3 Javed Ahmadi, 4 Najibullah Zadran, 5 Asghar Afghan, 6 Gulbadin Naib, 7 Rashid Khan (capt), 8 Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), 9 Naveen-ul-Haq, 10 Sayed Shirzad, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman
West Indies (possible): 1 Lendl Simmons, 2 Evin Lewis, 3 Brandon King, 4 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 5 Shrefane Rutherford, 6 Kieron Pollard (capt), 7 Jason Holder, 8 Khary Pierre, 9 Hayden Walsh Jr, 10 Alzarri Joseph, 11 Sheldon Cottrell
Pitch and conditions
A bug invasion in the third ODI forced players to wear masks, and with the game being played under floodlights in Lucknow again, another attack can't be ruled out. North India is now experiencing the onset of winter, and dew is expected to play a big role as the evening progresses. With both teams expected to field multiple spin bowlers, there could be an effect. The night sky in Lucknow is expected to be hazy, and some reports suggest that the air quality could be hazardous.
Stats and trivia
Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo