Mohammad Nabi is no stranger to the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Having featured for Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League, he knows the conditions like the back of his palm.
And as ‘The President’ - fondly called by the Renegades fans - hit the ground at the MCG ahead of Afghanistan’s T20 World Cup fixture against New Zealand, Nabi looked confident.
Coming into the game following a five-wicket defeat against England, Afghan players know that it’s a must-win game for them to stay afloat in the tournament, whereas for the high-flying New Zealand, which got off to an 89-run win against Australia in Sydney last week, a big victory here would help in cementing a place at the top of Group 1.
But even then, the Afghanistan players have reasons to be confident.
With two quality spinners in its ranks in Rashid Khan and Mujeeb UR Rahman, Afghanistan would hope to make the most of the used pitch when it walks out on Wednesday evening for the second match of the double-header. In worn-out pitches, the spinners could be effective.
“It’s a bit tough to bowl on skiddy pitches, but still, we can believe in the line and length and use the bigger boundaries. Maybe tomorrow, it's a used pitch we play on that ground. Maybe there will be a little bit of a turn on that as well,” Nabi hoped.
To the advantage of the Afghans, both Rashid and Nabi have experience of playing in Australia during the Big Bash League and a lot would depend on how they strategise. There is a possibility that the team might bring in Naveen-ul-Haq along with Fazalhaq Farooqi, who had figures of 1-24 at an economy rate of six against England, to combat the Finn Allen-Devon Conway opening pair.
But there are concerns over Nabi’s form. In the Asia Cup, he scored 16 runs in four outings, while claiming just three wickets. Even in the Caribbean Premier League, he grabbed six wickets and contributed 36 runs with the bat for Jamaica Tallawahs. Though his unbeaten 41 and 51 in the warm-ups against Bangladesh and Pakistan had raised hope, against England in Perth, Nabi faltered again - scoring three runs and claiming a lone wicket.
But then in familiar territory, he hopes to ‘bounce back’.
The opening partnership between Conway and Allen had set the stage for New Zealand’s big total against Australia, and against a rather new Afghan fast bowling line-up, the Kiwis will be hoping to make the most of the moment.
New Zealand all-rounder Daryl Mitchell, who recovered from a broken finger, would be available for selection. However, the Kiwis could be reluctant to change a winning side. With Tim Southee and Trent Boult in its ranks, the fast bowling department is sorted and the two options in spinners Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi help New Zealand keep its bases covered.
The MCG was a packed house when India played Pakistan a couple of days ago, but in the middle of the week, there’s not a lot of buzz around the Afghan-Kiwi clash.