June 9, 2023

After days and days of dark clouds and regular drizzle, sunshine finally made its presence felt in this part of the world. Friday was bright and sunny, almost through the day. Even the seagulls came flying and circled the Hampshire Bowl, as if to celebrate the splendour of daylight.

How the Indian team must have loved the sight of it. With their World Cup game against Afghanistan coming up here on Saturday, it was critical for the weather to improve so that the game could be staged.

India are not only looking at the two points from this game, but also a significant improvement in the net run rate with an eye on the semifinal qualification order. The met forecast for game-day is good and a full contest should ensue. The ground, though, was still wet and needed some more drying up for it to be risk-free for the players.

While there was some suspense over Vijay Shankar’s fitness, he seemed to be match-ready after going through a fitness test on Friday. Shankar said he was feeling a lot better. Asked if he would be able to play on Saturday, the allrounder said, “Yes, hopefully.” Shankar was hit on his toe by a Jasprit Bumrah yorker at the nets on Wednesday.

India are set to field paceman Mohammed Shami in place of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is nursing a hamstring niggle. It’s difficult to see how and where Afghanistan can hurt India. It’s a match-up between one of the best teams in the competition against the weakest one.

To make it worse, the hammering Eoin Morgan gave the Afghanistan bowlers in their last game at Old Trafford would have depleted their morale even further. Their poster boy and main strike weapon, Rashid Khan, was clobbered for 110 runs off his nine overs, the worst-ever bowling performance in the World Cup.

But cricket can be slippery business and a team has to guard against complacency. The good thing with this India side is that it’s a process-driven professional unit, very focused on the job. It seems highly unlikely that it will allow Afghanistan any elbow room.

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