All but eliminated from the race to final, a demoralised India would look to sign off their disastrous Asia Cup campaign on a positive note when they take on spirited debutantes Afghanistan in their last round-robin league match here on Wednesday. Hit hard by successive defeats, India will be eyeing a bonus point win over Afghanistan to boost their sagging morale in what has been a depressing campaign for the record five-time champions.
India's minuscule chances of making the final hinge on bizarre arithmetical equations. Virat Kohli's men would have to get past Pakistan in net run-rate so as to make the final, a situation which will only arise if Bangladesh managed to beat Pakistan in their last match. Four-time champions Sri Lanka have already sealed their final berth cruising to a third consecutive win, this time with a bonus point against Afghanistan on Monday night.
But it's not going to be easy for the Indians who look vulnerable without regular skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni as that winning edge has been missing from the side. The batting has centred around Kohli as none of the other batsmen have shown the temperament to stay at the crease and go all the way. (Also read: Why India won't play the Asia Cup final)
It will be once again a test of the Indian batting against minnows Afghanistan who have been a revelation in this tournament putting up an impressive show especially with their pace bowling. They have a potent pace attack in the Zadran duo of Shapoor and Dawlat and the left-right combination bring in the variety to fast bowling.
Spin department also has the variety in the trio of skipper Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shenwari and Hamza Hotak. Nabi gets vicious turn with his off-spin, while Shenwari has that acute leg-breaks making the duo the team's principal wicket-taking spinners. Left-armer Hotak has also done well to restrict the flow of runs at one end, conceding runs at 4.04 from three matches.
Bubbling with enthusiasm, Afghanistan announced their arrival at the big stage when they downed Bangladesh by 32 runs for their maiden victory against a Test-playing nation after four matches. Afghanistan's bowlers would look to primarily target Kohli. A level of mediocrity has descended on the Indian side after drawing a blank in the tours of South Africa and New Zealand.
Kohli's aggressive captaincy has brought in the spark in the Indian side but unfortunately it has not been translated into wins, barring against Bangladesh in their first match. Leading from the front, Kohli slammed 136 to help India recover from a jittery start and set up an easy six wicket win against Bangladesh. Since then, Kohli has not been able to put up big runs and India have lost on both occasions.
The Indian specialist batsmen in Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane and Ambati Rayudu have shown spark with half-centuries but their failure to make it big has proved to be the difference. Sharma looked fluent giving India a flying start in their match against Pakistan but only to be guilty of throwing his wicket after scoring a half century to bring the run-rate down.
It was Ambati Rayudu's 58 from 62 balls followed by Ravindra Jadeja's unbeaten 52 from 42 balls that gave the Indian total some respectability. Rayudu, who has been preferred over the big guns of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, will certainly take some confidence from the knock while the emergence of Jadeja as that much needed all-rounder would be two positive aspects.
At the same time, Dinesh Karthik's shoddy work after missing two stumpings in the last two matches, one of them against Kumar Sangakkara who went on to play a match-winning century, hurt India badly. It's important for the Indian team to end the tournament on a positive note as they would return to the same country in less than fortnight's time for the World Twenty20 Championship.
India would play two warm-up fixtures against Sri Lanka and England on March 17 and 19, respectively before beginning their World T20 campaign against Pakistan at the same venue on March 21.
One of the big positives for India in this tournament has been tweaker Amit Mishra who has reinvented himself to give bite to the innocuous spin attack. In contrast, R Ashwin's regular experimentation with his action and variety has started to hurt India's cause. Mishra's inclusion against Pakistan suddenly brought a fresh lease of life.
Playing his first International match after four months, Mishra almost brought Pakistan's downfall taking a tidy 2/28 from his quota before Shahid Afridi smashed two sixes off Ashwin to clinch a one-wicket thriller. In the pace department, Mohammad Shami after his emergence in the national scene from nowhere, has begun to look jaded while Bhuvneshwar Kumar has never looked menacing for the opposition.
Afghanistan's inexperienced batting once again proved to be their bane when they were bundled out for 124 in pursuit of Sri Lanka's 254 on Monday. But the spirited Afghanistan would not be short on motivation especially after their landmark victory over Bangladesh that has helped them break into the one-day rankings table. With 32 rating points, 12th placed Afghanistan would have the chance to leapfrog Ireland (38) with another win.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik (wicketkeeper), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Cheteshwar Pujara, Stuart Binny, Varun Aaron and Ishwar Pandey.
Afghanistan: Mohammad Nabi (captain), Mohammad Shahzad (wicketkeeper), Noor Ali Zardan, Asghar Stanikzai, Nawroj Mangal, Samiullah Shenwari, Najibullah Zardan, Mirwais Ashraf, Hamza Hotak, Dawlat Zardan, Shapoor Zardan, Hamid Hassan, Karim Sadiq, Rahmat Shah, Fazal Niazai.
Match starts: 1.30pm IST.