Asia Cup: Shaheen Afridi plays on India’s mind ahead of Super Four

Rohit Sharma needs to shake off his doubts against the left-arm quick; weather remains a concern in Colombo

Pakistan bowler Shaheen Afridi (in picture) seems to have got the measure of India's Rohit Sharma in particular (photo: @ICC/ X)
Pakistan bowler Shaheen Afridi (in picture) seems to have got the measure of India's Rohit Sharma in particular (photo: @ICC/ X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

How to solve a problem like Shaheen Afridi? This seems to be the overriding question for the likes of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli ahead of the Asia Cup Super Four clash in Colombo on Sunday as after quite some time, a Pakistan pace trio seems to have planted a seed of doubt in the minds of Indian batters.

The first round in Colombo on 2 September may have remained inconclusive thanks to the weather, but it took an extraordinary 138-run partnership between Ishan Kishan and Hardik Pandya to save India its blushes. While Afridi (4/35) struck telling blows by picking up the Indian skipper again along with Kohli, Haris Rauf (3/58) and Naseem Shah (3/36) looked razor sharp to create a record of sorts — the first time their fast bowlers had picked up all 10 wickets in an innings against the arch rivals.

The Rohit-Afridi duel has this well known back story when in the 2021 World T20 in Dubai, the left-arm fast bowler had one seaming back off the first delivery to catch the veteran batter plumb in front of the wicket for a golden duck. A world class left-armer with the ability to bring in the odd delivery always poses questions for the right-hander, but Rohit’s discomfort has been amplified in recent years, and the way Afridi set him up has got the cricket fraternity talking.

The mind games have begun with Shoaib Akhtar, a loose cannon at the best of times, making a valid point in a chat with the broadcasters: ‘’Shaheen uske dimaag mein baith gaya hai’’ (Shaheen is playing on his mind). The Rawalpindi Express pointed to a change of stance by Rohit, who had positioned his front foot slightly wide away with a leg stump guard — a tactical change to get more time to read the left-arm over-the-wicket delivery which often pitches on the right hander’s blind spot.

‘’I have never seen him change his stance, but what was happening there?’’ Akhtar said as Shaheen seemed to have set up Rohit by slanting the previous delivery away and then bringing one back to breach the batter’s defence. An observation which surely has not gone unnoticed by the think tank of other teams with the World Cup coming up in less than a month’s time.

A visit to India’s indoor training session in Colombo by Indian Express revealed that their obsession with left-arm quicks was not unfounded. Sri Lankan Nuwan Seneviratne, the team’s throwdown specialist, was at work with his ball-slinging tool to curve in the in-swingers and slanting deliveries to simulate a left-arm quick’s stock and shock deliveries. The media report, however, says the two big guns were absent from the session as Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul went through the drill.

Incidentally, it’s not about Afridi alone as on the last two occasions that these teams clashed, the Indian top order was found wanting — collapsing to 31/4 in the T20 World Cup before Kohli’s brilliance pulled them out of the hole, and to 66/4 in Colombo last week. The raw pace of Rauf, who became the fastest Pakistani bowler to reach 50 ODI wickets, and Naseem’s ability to seam the ball both ways means they are a complete package in the showpiece in India next month.

If India has to fight fire with fire, the most viable option for them is to give a well-rested Mohammed Shami more game time rather than the strange option of playing two seaming allrounders in subcontinent conditions. The trio of Shami-Bumrah-Siraz must fire if they want to do something in this World Cup!

Catch the match

Asia Cup 2023 Super Four

India vs Pakistan, 10 September

Colombo, 4.00 pm IST

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