In the 2023 Asia Cup opener between India and Pakistan, the familiar vulnerability of the Indian cricket team against left-arm seamers came to the forefront yet again. Pakistan’s Shaheen Afridi, who had previously caused havoc in India’s top order during the 2021 T20 World Cup encounter, became their nemesis again.
Despite India’s preparations, which included enlisting uncapped left-arm pacer Ankit Chaudhury as a net bowler, Shaheen Afridi’s lethal in-swingers proved too much for India’s top batters. In particular, captain Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli succumbed to Shaheen’s prowess, raising questions about India’s ability to handle his deliveries.
Batting first, India’s captain Rohit Sharma made a promising start before rain interrupted his rhythm. Upon resumption, Shaheen Afridi adapted his approach to exploit the pitch’s conditions and swiftly dismissed Rohit Sharma with a sharply moving delivery. Just an over later, he claimed the prized wicket of Virat Kohli, marking the second instance in his international career where the legendary batter fell victim to his outside-off delivery, chopping it onto the stumps.
Rohit Sharma faced similar difficulties against Shaheen in the 2021 T20 World Cup, getting dismissed on the first delivery he faced from the Pakistani bowler. Since his remarkable 140 against Pakistan in the 2019 World Cup, Rohit has struggled against Pakistan in the four T20I encounters, raising the stakes for their upcoming clash in the Super 4 stage.
Former Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar expressed his bewilderment at Rohit Sharma’s approach when facing Shaheen Afridi. Akhtar believes Shaheen has instilled fear in Rohit’s mind, causing him to alter his batting patterns when facing the Pakistani pacer.
“Yeh Rohit Sharma woh Rohit Sharma hai hi nahi. Yeh uska stunt double hai. Shaheen uske dimaag mein baith gaya hai. (This is not the same Rohit Sharma. This one’s a stunt double. Shaheen has conquered his mind). I have never seen him change his stance, but what was happening there? Stance change kara, beat hua, bowled hua (He changed his stance and got bowled). Shaheen is subconsciously in his mind. This is what pressure of IND vs PAK match does to players,” Shoaib Akhtar said during a virtual press conference organized by Star Sports ahead of The Greatest Rivalry.
Shaheen Afridi’s lethal opening spell was pivotal in reducing India to 66/4 in Pallekele. However, a resilient partnership between Ishan Kishan (82) and Hardik Pandya (87) rescued the side, eventually guiding India to a competitive total 266. Nevertheless, India’s aspirations in the Asia Cup Super 4 stage heavily rely on the performances of star batters Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.
The India-Pakistan cricket rivalry never fails to deliver intensity, and Shaheen Afridi’s dominance over India’s top order remains a significant subplot. As India progresses in the Asia Cup Super 4 stage, they face challenges against defending champions Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. However, their rematch against arch-rivals Pakistan remains the centerpiece, where Rohit Sharma and his team will seek answers to Shaheen Afridi’s persistent mastery with the left-arm seam.