Afghanistan, Netherlands look to ace a spin battle | Cricket

The prospect of a substantial fan turnout for a non-India league game in this World Cup might seem unlikely, given the time commitment required and the perception that such matches lack the entertainment level of T20 games.

Rashid Khan (left) bowls as pacer Naveen-ul-Haq (right) watches him during Afghanistan’s training session in Lucknow on Wednesday(HT_PRINT)
Rashid Khan (left) bowls as pacer Naveen-ul-Haq (right) watches him during Afghanistan’s training session in Lucknow on Wednesday(HT_PRINT)

However, Lucknow’s Ekana Stadium has defied such assessments. The opening match between South Africa and Australia saw a respectable attendance of 10,000 enthusiastic fans. When India faced England, the stadium was transformed into a sea of blue, accommodating nearly 47,000 fans in a venue with a capacity of 50,000. However, there was a sizeable drop in attendance for the Sri Lanka-Australia game.

So, can we expect an enthusiastic turnout for the encounter between the rapidly emerging Afghanistan and spirited Netherlands? It appears that will be the case with long lines of Afghan fans redeeming their online tickets at the stadium on match eve, suggesting a considerable crowd presence for the game on Friday.

Having already scored three stunning victories in the tournament — over Pakistan, Sri Lanka and holders England — Hashmatullah Shahidi-led Afghanistan, who have six points, aim to secure another win to keep their semi-final hopes alive. Given their current form, they are the favourites against the Dutch, who are also vying for another victory to improve their net run-rate and remain in contention for a spot in the knockouts, especially after their wins against formidable South Africa and Bangladesh.

Both Afghanistan and Netherlands are likely to rely heavily on their spinners as the red clay surface is conducive for slow bowling. India’s Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav’s performance in the previous game where he dismissed Jos Buttler should provide the teams insights into bowling effectively on this pitch.

Netherlands will depend on Aryan Dutt and Colin Ackermann, while Afghanistan are expected to stick with Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Mohammad Nabi and the promising Noor Ahmad.

Acknowledging the challenges spinners are expected to pose on the wicket, Netherlands’ key spinner, Colin Ackermann, said, “We have Aryan Dutt, who has excelled in this tournament. He is not only capable of containment but can also take wickets, which is evident in his performances. He’s a special talent.” Ackermann believes that their strategy to contain batters from one end while allowing seamers to attack from the other will be effective, making Dutt a key bowler.

In contrast to the inconsistency of the Dutch batting, Afghanistan’s top order was solid against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and even holders England. Skipper Shahidi, along with Azmatullah Omarzai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Rahmat Shah, Ibrahim Zardan and Ikram Akhil, have shouldered responsibility in crucial matches and their performances have raised hopes that semi-final qualification is not beyond them, potentially displacing Pakistan from contention.

Following this match, Afghanistan and Netherlands will both face big teams in their remaining matches of the tournament. Afghanistan will go up against Australia and South Africa while the ‘Orange Army’ will face England and India. A win on Friday thus could make a significant difference for both sides.

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