Cricket World Cup 2019: Rishabh Pant in the spotlight as India prepare to take on Afghanistan

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All eyes on whether Pant (l) is selected.

Tournament minnows Afghanistan have their task cut out as they get ready to take on an in-form India in a 2019 ICC World Cup clash at Southampton on Saturday.

The two teams are at completely opposite ends of the table coming into the clash with India firing while Afghanistan have struggled desperately in all departments.

Virat Kohli and his men remain unbeaten four games into their campaign with three wins and one no-result. Afghanistan, on the other hand, remain glued to the bottom of the table after suffering five defeats in as many games.

PANT IN THE SPOTLIGHT AS INDIA DEAL WITH INJURIES

While India do come into the clash on the back of a crushing win against Pakistan, all in not well on the injury front. Opener Shikhar Dhawan’s fractured thumb has now ruled him out of the tournament with Rishabh Pant being drafted in as a replacement.

Many eyebrows were raised over the young wicketkeeper’s non-selection in the original World Cup squad but fate has provided him a backdoor entry into the prestigious tournament. The question for India now is whether to select the youngster into the playing XI straight away with his explosive power hitting a tempting option.

It was Vijay Shankar who took the No4 spot in the Pakistan clash in the absence of Dhawan and the all-rounder had an eventful outing with two crucial wickets. It seems unlikely Shankar will be dropped after that display and Pant might well have to wait for his chance to arrive.

However, there might be no better opportunity for Kohli to experiment with Pant in the playing XI with Afghanistan in disastrous form at the moment.

In the bowling department, Mohammed Shami is set to get his first outing of the tournament with Bhuvneshwar Kumar sidelined for up to three games with a hamstring niggle.

AFGHANISTAN IN TURMOIL

Less than a year ago, Afghanistan held India to a tie in a thrilling Asia Cup clash in the UAE but all that seems a distant memory as they look to salvage some pride in a campaign which is fast turning into a shocker.

The tournament minnows did manage to put in a respectable batting display in their recent clash against England but still had to walk away with a 150-run defeat after conceding nearly 400 runs with the ball.

Things won’t get easier against for them against India after what has been a campaign in turmoil – both on and off in the pitch. It all started with Asghar Afghan being removed as skipper just days before the start of the tournament and it has been all downhill ever since with five comprehensive defeats on the trot in the World Cup.

Even their star bowler Rashid Khan was carted for a record 110 runs in nine overs by England while morale seems low across the entire camp. They will have to put all this behind them quickly if they are to prevent their second World Cup campaign from being a complete disaster.

Its all gone horribly wrong for Afghanistan.

Its all gone horribly wrong for Afghanistan.

KOHLI ON VERGE OF ANOTHER MILESTONE

Just days after becoming the fastest batsman in ODI history to score 11,000 runs, India skipper Kohli is on the verge of breaking another record held jointly by Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara.

The superstar batsman could become the fastest batsman to reach 20,000 international runs should he score 104 runs against Afghanistan on Saturday. Tendulkar and Lara had attained the feat after 453 innings apiece while Kohli has only played a total of 415 innings so far across all three formats.

The right-hander has been in good form in the World Cup so far but is yet to register a century. The record should fall sooner rather than later and the Afghanistan clash might just be the perfect time for Kohli to strike his first ton of the tournament.

LIKELY XIs

India: KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (c), Vijay Shankar/Rishabh Pant, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal.

Afghanistan: Noor Ali Zadran, Gulbadin Naib (c), Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Asghar Afghan, Mohammad Nabi, Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Imram Ali Khil (wk), Dawlat Zadran, Rashid Khan.

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