Afghanistan will be pleased with the action shifting to the two-match T20I series that starts in Dhaka on Thursday, but Bangladesh might feel differently.
They have started to dread the format in recent times. Bangladesh have lost their last eight T20Is, and although Afghanistan didn’t cover themselves in glory in the T20 World Cup last year, everyone agrees that they love T20s, and they have the personnel for it.
This time, Afghanistan have a new-look side after dropping a number of senior cricketers, most notably, Mohammad Shahzad, Gulbadin Naib, Hamid Hassan and Hashmatullah Shahidi. They have made way for, among others, Darwish Rasooli, Azmatullah Omarzai and Nijat Masood. Asghar Afghan has also retired, which leaves more responsibility on the shoulders of senior pros Mohammad Nabi and Najibullah Zadran.
With Naveen-ul-Haq also absent, they will also have a new-look pace attack, with Karim Janat and Omarzai in the mix as the all-rounders. Their main strength, as always, will be the spin trio of Rashid Khan, Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, and now they also have Qais Ahmad, who did well in the BPL.
Bangladesh have returned to some of their T20 World Cup players, including Litton Das, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim. While Shakib was out with an injury recently, Litton and Mushfiqur were dropped after the World Cup, perhaps unfairly. The selectors have also included Munim Shahriar, the big-hitting opener who made a good first impression in this season’s BPL.
But getting rid of Shamim Hossain and Nurul Hasan does seem hasty, given that they were growing into the finishers' role. That will now go back to Mahmudullah, who would expect Yasir Ali and Afif Hossain to help him out in the last few overs.
How Bangladesh shape their pace attack might be interesting too. They may want to look at Taskin Ahmed and Shoriful Islam up front, with Mustafizur Rahman the floater, so to say, to attack Rahmanullah Gurbaz, but that could be at the cost of an extra batter.
Bangladesh fans will have their eyes on Mushfiqur Rahim, who returns to the T20I side after being dropped from their previous series, against Pakistan in November. Mushfiqur would be itching to prove a point to the selectors, but this could also be an occasion for him to have a bit of fun, enjoy himself, without letting go of the intensity, of course. It will be his 100th T20I, after all.
The big-hitting Rahmanullah Gurbaz struck his third ODI hundred earlier this week. Gurbaz’s 180.51 strike rate in this season’s PSL adds to Afghanistan's top-order firepower that already includes Hazratullah Zazai and newcomer Rasooli. Gurbaz prefers to hit the ball down the ground but he has also shown his willingness to launch into pull shots and the square cut.
Mushfiqur, Shakib and Litton will slot into the XI, while Shahriar could make his international debut.
Rasooli and Omarzai could make their T20I debuts looking at how Afghanistan have been looking at making changes and giving their team a fresh look.
It will be interesting to see if the Shere Bangla National Stadium’s curator Gamini Silva avoids laying out a turner, something he is used to doing even for T20s. Chattogram had a grassy pitch that worked against the Afghanistan spinners, so Dhaka could also go that way. Dry weather is forecast.
Afghanistan have won four of their six T20Is against Bangladesh.
Mahmudullah is 29 runs away from becoming the first Bangladesh batter to reach 2000 runs in T20Is. Shakib, who holds the record for most wickets in the format, is 106 runs away from 2000 runs.