The spotlight will be only on the returning Rohit Sharma as his long-time colleague Virat Kohli pulled out of the opening T20I against Afghanistan due to “personal reasons” ahead of the first ever white-ball series between the two teams, beginning in Mohali on Thursday. Kohli, though, will be available for the second and third T20 International. India head coach Rahul Dravid attributed Kohli’s pull-out to “family reasons” before he addressed media. Both the stalwarts are returning to the shortest format after 14 months and will be keenly observed in the three-match rubber, which will be India’s last before the T20 World Cup in June, giving the team more clarity on where it stands ahead of the ICC event in Americas.
However, the final 15 will be picked on the basis of core group’s performance in the IPL, which precedes the World Cup.
Dravid said Rohit will open the batting with young Yashasvi Jaiswal against Afghanistan.
Rohit and Kohli, after he returns, are a certainty in this squad but the accomplished duo would first like to get the most out of the games against Afghanistan, who would be without their star spinner Rashid Khan.
Khan underwent a back surgery in November last year and is still recuperating.
“He is not totally fit. We will miss him in the series. We will struggle without Rashid but one should be ready for any kind of situation,” Afghanistan captain Ibrahim Zadran said on the eve of the series-opener, hoping that others in the side would step up.
The focus, however, will firmly be on Rohit, easily among the biggest crowd-puller. His presence on the field would be a big reason for the Mohali crowd to brave the prevailing cold wave.
Rohit, who will also captain the side, will be expected to carry on with his ultra aggressive approach in the powerplay like he showed in the ODI World Cup.
The team, having returned from South Africa last week, only assembled on Wednesday evening for the series.
The likes of Jaiswal and Tilak Varma remain in the squad after performing top-order duties in the drawn series against South Africa, and so is Shubman Gill.
Across formats, Gill did not have the easiest of times in the Rainbow nation and will be looking to pile on the runs against Afghanistan with the others breathing down his neck.
In his toughest test yet in a blossoming T20 career, Rinku Singh proved his worth in the South African conditions and will be a key player for India in the middle-order, especially in the absence of the injured duo of Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya.
With Ishan Kishan interestingly left out, Jitesh Sharma and Sanju Samson are the two wicket-keeping options for the squad.
Having donned the gloves in the previous two series, Jitesh is expected to start ahead of Samson, who finds himself back in the fold after the short series in Ireland last August.
Shivam Dube too is back and can feature in the eleven as a pace bowling all-rounder while three specialist pace options are Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan and Mukesh Kumar.
Kuldeep Yadav will lead the spin attack and other options to choose from are Ravi Bishnoi, Axar Patel and Washington Sundar.
India would be expected to win comfortably in their own conditions but Afghanistan will give them a run for their money.
Having recently exceeded all expectations in their giant-killing run during the ODI World Cup in India, Afghanistan will be high on confidence in a format that suits them the most.
Barring Rashid’s injury-forced absence, the team is at full strength after the likes Mujeeb Zadran, Naveen-Ul Haq and Fazalhaq Farooqi sorted their contractual issues with the country’s cricket board.
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Shubman Gill, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Virat Kohli, Tilak Varma, Rinku Singh, Jitesh Sharma (wk), Sanju Samson (wk), Shivam Dube, Washington Sundar, Axar Patel, Ravi Bishnoi, Kuldeep Yadav, Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan, Mukesh Kumar.
Aghanistan: Ibrahim Zadran (captain), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (WK), Ikram Alikhil (WK), Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Karim Janat, Azmatullah Omarzai, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Fareed Ahmad, Naveen Ul Haq, Noor Ahmad, Mohammad Saleem, Qais Ahmad, Gulbadin Naib and Rashid Khan.
Match starts at 7pm (local time).
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