All eyes will be on Rishabh Pant's selection when an injury-hit India take on minnows Afghanistan in the World Cup 2019 clash at the Rose Bowl in Southampton on Saturday. Rishabh Pant, who was designated as Team India reserve, made it to the squad following opener Shikhar Dhawan's injury and could add firepower to the side's batting line-up. Bottom-placed Afghanistan, on the other hand, have larger problems to deal with after their coach Phil Simmons indicated via a tweet that he will reveal chief selector Dawlat Ahmadzai's role in the removal of Asghar Afghan as skipper in the 11th hour and the effect of his actions on the team's preparation for the World Cup 2019.
Afghanistan's controversial campaign, marred by poor on and off-field decisions, has gone from bad to worse. They now face the onerous task of squaring off against a galaxy of world class players, whose performance graph is on the upswing.
India is one team that endured tougher matches right at the beginning and Virat Kohli's men have looked quite invincible in their one-sided wins against South Africa, Australia and Pakistan.
Such has been their dominance that even injuries to senior opener Dhawan, fast bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar or all-rounder Vijay Shankar have not had any impact whatsoever on the performance against the top teams.
Losing Dhawan due to a fractured thumb after his match-winning hundred against Australia was being seen as a big blow but KL Rahul's composed half century against a rampaging Mohammed Amir dispelled any such doubts.
With Rohit Sharma in prime form, a fourth double hundred could be there for the taking against a hapless attack with their prime bowler Rashid Khan, horribly out of form.
Skipper Virat Kohli hit two half-centuries against Australia and Pakistan with such ease that the at least the first 35 runs in both the innings were scored before one even realised.
Shankar's injury is a slight concern but young Rishabh Pant, with his audacious approach, brings in a certain X-factor that is difficult to ignore.
In case Shankar doesn't get fit in time, the fight for that slot will be between Pant and the seasoned Dinesh Karthik, who was team management's original choice in the squad of 15.
Hardik Pandya, whenever pushed up as the floater, has been a success while Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been rock solid behind the stumps and steady in front.
This match could provide Kohli with an opportunity to promote Kedar Jadhav up the order as he is one batsman in the line-up, who has played only eight balls over three completed matches.
Against Afghanistan, Mohammed Shami will get his first game in the tournament and his pace and movement could be more than a handful for the likes of Hazratullah Zazai, Hashmatullah Shahidi or Asghar Afghan.
The inexperienced Afghans may find Kuldeep Yadav or Yuzvendra Chahal's craft too hot to handle.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Vijay Shankar, Hardik Pandya, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Afghanistan: Gulbadin Naib (capt), Aftab Alam, Hazratullah Zazai, Asghar Afghan, Rashid Khan, Mohammed Nabi, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Dawlat Zadran, Najibullah Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Samiullah Shinwari, Rahmat Shah, Noor Ali Zadran, Ikram Alikhil.
Match starts at 3 pm
(With PTI inputs)