Pakistan and Afghanistan, two teams who are very familiar with the conditions in UAE, will be up against each other for the first time in the Asia Cup, on Wednesday, and only the third time in T20Is. Though Pakistan have a perfect record against Afghanistan – having won both the matches in 2013 and 2019 – it’s going to be anybody’s game in Sharjah.
Having kicked off the Asia Cup with two impressive wins against higher-ranked Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the group stage, Afghanistan endured a defeat to Dasun Shanaka’s men after posting 175 for 6 in their first Super 4 match. But there were takeaways for them. First of all, it was a close game. And overall, they’ve shown they no longer just rely on the spin trio of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and captain Mohammad Nabi for wickets anymore. Their fast bowlers Fazalhaq Farooqi
have emerged as match-winners for them.
Pakistan, meanwhile, have been able to put up convincing victories despite injuries to key players and their captain being out of form. Mohammad Rizwan has done well to cover for Babar Azam, with 192 runs from three innings. The likes of Fakhar Zaman and Khushdil Shah have also chipped in, and in the previous match, against India, allrounder Mohammad Nawaz blazed away to 42 off 20 balls after being promoted to No.4.
Bowling still remains their biggest strength, with spinners Shadab Khan and Nawaz sharing 13 wickets between them from three matches. Add the young Naseem Shah to the picture and the attack looks even more potent.
While a victory will take Pakistan closer to the final after having beaten defending champions India in a last-over thriller
, they will have to overcome a highly motivated opponent as Afghanistan themselves chase their first win in the Super 4s.
Pakistan: WWLLW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Filling in a Shaheen Shah Afridi-sized hole in Pakistan’s bowling line-up isn’t easy, but Naseem Shah
, just three T20Is old, has proved he can come close. He burst on the scene in red-ball cricket with his searing pace and swing, and turns out, that combination works in the shorter formats too. The 19-year-old has picked up five wickets in three matches so far in the competition and will have a big role to play in restricting Afghanistan’s improved batting. Especially with the experienced Haris Rauf struggling a little bit.
is coming off an 84 off 45 balls against Sri Lanka – albeit in a losing cause. He also hit an 18-ball 40 in a low-key chase in the Asia Cup opener. With a strike rate of 166.66 in the Asia Cup, the hard-hitting opener presents a serious threat to the Pakistan bowlers. He is also among a key group of players Afghanistan will be relying on to lift them up from the bottom of the Super 4 table.
The team batting first will be looking to score big, as has been the case in two out of three matches played in Sharjah. Pakistan posted 193 against Hong Kong, and Sri Lanka chased down Afghanistan’s 175.
Rizwan, who injured his knee on Sunday, has been cleared to play by the Pakistan medical team and will keep his place both at the top of the order, and behind the wicket.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 3 Fakhar Zaman, 4 Iftikhar Ahmed, 5 Khushdil Shah, 6 Shadab Khan, 7 Asif Ali, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Naseem Shah, 10 Haris Rauf, 11 Mohammad Hasnain
Afghanistan are unlikely to make changes.
Afghanistan: 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), 3 Ibrahim Zadran, 4 Najibullah Zadran, 5 Mohammad Nabi (capt), 6 Karim Janat, 7 Rashid Khan, 8 Azmatullah Omarzai, 9 Naveen-ul-Haq, 10 Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, 11 Fazalhaq Farooqi.
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