Having been blown away by Afghanistan and then having to use every ounce of firepower to get past Bangladesh, they will once again face a trial by spin. Against the Rashids and the Mujeebs. However, the current Afghanistan team is beginning to establish a new bowling order. Their fast bowlers Fazalhaq Farooqi and Naveen ul Haq have been the perfect prelude to the spin superstars. So as a batting unit, there’s unlikely to be any respite.
Does the current line-up have the confidence to take on bowling straightaway? In their virtual knockout, Sri Lanka had to go for broke, for a flight was waiting to take them home otherwise. Can they replicate a similar mindset with the stakes significantly higher?
Chris Silverwood’s focus is on bringing back Sri Lanka to their refreshing approach to white-ball cricket that revolutionised the ODI game in the 1990s, the kinds that gave opponents nightmares when Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana destroyed attacks with disdain.
However, that is easier said than done. The proof lies in the pudding. Saturday will be another opportunity to test that.
Afghanistan have proved they’re giant killers no more. UAE conditions are as good as home conditions. Most players are residents here, and train and play all year round on pitches such as these, and in weather far more oppressive. What they will want to guard against is complacency.
So far, they haven’t been tested while batting first. How they approach it – should this scenario play out on Saturday – will be interesting to watch.
Afghanistan have the edge but having just about stopped the door from shutting them out of their own party, they will now want to barge it open.
Pakistan: WLWLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Hong Kong: WWLWW
In the spotlight
Pitch and conditions
The surface in Sharjah will be the same as the Pakistan v Hong Kong game. There is likely to be some rough patches and dry spots that could aid the spinners. That said, the ground dimensions are significantly smaller than Dubai, and both sides have batters than can take surfaces out of the equation. So far, there hasn’t been any dew across both venues. Toss should not be a deciding factor.
Both sides have a fully fit squad of players to choose from. They are unlikely to make changes.
Sri Lanka: 1 Pathum Nissanka, 2 Kusal Mendis (wk), 3 Charith Asalanka, 4 Danushka Gunathilaka, 5 Bhanuka Rajapaksa, 6 Dasun Shanaka (capt), 7 Wanindu Hasaranga, 8 Chamika Karunaratne, 9 Maheesh Theekshana, 10 Asitha Fernando, 11 Dilshan Madushanka.
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.
Stats and trivia
“Chris Silverwood is trying to bring back the positive, aggressive brand of cricket we used to play a couple of decades back. He has given us the freedom to think as adults and not be pampered.” – Bhanuka Rajapaksa on Sri Lanka wanting to channel their 1990s brand of cricket
“The way the boys have performed, the way they have adjusted and taken the responsibility upon themselves has been great to see. In the Super 4s too, our focus is on playing the same brand of aggressive cricket, but also learn from the mistakes we made and not repeat it.” – Rashid Khan on Afghanistan’s simple mantra going forward
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo