West Indies face usually worthy opponents Afghanistan at the Ekana International Cricket Stadium in Lucknow later this morning. In Asian conditions, worthy is likely to be quickly translated into dangerous when the two teams take to the field about 4.30 a.m.
The venue will be hosting its second-ever international match and the only hindrance to the first of three ODIs, is the smog that has enveloped Lucknow in the last week or so. Despite a couple of training sessions being impacted as a result, the game is expected to go ahead as scheduled, which will mark the beginning of a new chapter for both Afghanistan and West Indies.
For starters, both teams endured underwhelming campaigns at the World Cup and under new ODI skippers in Rashid Khan and Kieron Pollard respectively, will be aiming to move forward from their low returns. Phil Simmons has been re-handed the reigns of a West Indian side whose captain will play his first ODI in three years, while Lance Klusener, Afghanistan’s new head coach, will look to translate potential to performance.
Khan made a stellar start to his captaincy tenure after being handed the reins across formats with an impressive win over Bangladesh, which was their first in Test cricket. He then led Afghanistan to wins over Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in the tri-series, and will now make his debut as ODI skipper.
The last time the sides met at the World Cup, Afghanistan fell 23 short of West Indies’ 312. Finishing without a single win in the tournament, it would do Afghanistan’s confidence a world of good if they can manage to start the series off on a winning note against a new-look West Indies.
Two wins at the World Cup and subsequent losses at home to India across formats in all the completed games, saw Pollard being handed the limited-overs captaincy – his first full-time stint as skipper, having led the side for two games in 2013. Also playing a game in the 50-over format after six years, Pollard will have more on his plate than just leading the side to a winning start. And the fact that Afghanistan have three world-class spinners in their ranks won’t make it a walk in the park.
The rise in the pollution levels – which even hampered practice sessions of the two teams – has reduced visibility to just about 100m. And with no rain predicted, it’s touted to cause the players trouble. The Delhi T20I went on as scheduled, but there were reports of a few players having vomited during the course of it. In a game that is due to last much longer than that, how the players will be affected will be left to see. It will also be a track that assists spin, of which Afghanistan have plenty.
West Indies will have to contend with Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi, all different quality spinners. When Afghanistan toured the Caribbean in 2017, Khan ran rings around West Indies, claiming ten wickets in two innings, including a record 7 for 18. Nabi gave away just 67 runs in 20 overs on that tour. With Mujeeb in the mix, that spin attack wears a very potent look.
West Indies’ new-look squad features the who’s who of the CPL, including the tournament’s top scorer Brandon King and leading wicket-taker Hayden Walsh Jr., who made his international debut for the USA earlier this year. Shai Hope will take the wicketkeeping gloves, having proved his fitness towards the close of Barbados Tridents’ run to the CPL title. He averages 47 in ODI cricket and will lead West Indies batting.
There could be a possible debut for Guyana Amazon Warriors seam-bowling allrounder Romario Shepherd, who impressed in the tour game on Monday.
Afghanistan could potentially have six right-handed batsmen in their top nine, so West Indies could consider picking Walsh Jr. and Kharry Pierre, both of whom take the ball away from them. With Chris Gayle, Carlos Brathwaite, the strangely absent Fabian Allen and Kemar Roach not part of the squad for the Afghanistan ODIs, West Indies will make at least four changes to the team that played against India in the Caribbean.
Khan expressed confidence in the ability of his team to play the big shots but stressed playing smart cricket was paramount.
“We are not big in size but we hit big sixes. We have the Afghani power and this boundary will also be small for us. But we will have to play smart cricket and not focus much on big shots. Because on such big ground, you have to play smart cricket,” Khan said.
Pollard said it would be an important outing for his team, especially with the changes and opportunities being presented to new players. “It is an important series as the coach has mentioned. All cricket is important for us. As a team, we have made some changes and are looking forward to doing well in the series,” he said.
SQUADS: Afghanistan – Rashid Khan (c), Asghar Afghan, Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, Javed Ahmadi, Afsar Zazai, Gulbadin Naib, Mohammad Nabi, Najibullah Zadran, Karim Janat, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Ibrahim Zadran, Yamin Ahmadzai, Naveen-ul-Haq, Ikram Alikhil, Mujeeb ur Rahman
West Indies – Kieron Pollard (c), Shai Hope, Evin Lewis, Shimron Hetmyer, Sunil Ambris, Nicholas Pooran, Brandon King,
Roston Chase, Jason Holder, Hayden Walsh Jr., Khary Pierre, Sheldon Cottrell, Keemo Paul, Romario Shepherd, Alzarri Joseph