Pakistan ready for Afghan challenge | The Express Tribune


Pakistan’s ride in the 2022 Asia Cup has been a topsy-turvy one until now, but they’ll be eyeing consistency in performances and in winning too when they face dark horses Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Pakistan started their campaign with a last-over defeat against India in Dubai.

Pacer Naseem Shah, debuting in T20Is, provided the spark that Babar Azam thought they’d be missing due to the absence of Shaheen Shah Afridi in the first overs. However, the teenager dismissed KL Rahul to prove he’s the future of the Pakistani pace attack.

But India’s successful chase came in the last over with seven required off six balls and all-rounder Hardik Pandya hitting a six to push the team past the finish line.

Pakistan would have wanted a victory to start off their Asia Cup campaign with confidence, but the loss against India didn’t provide that. However, they next faced Hong Kong and their spinners decimated the minnows’ batting line-up for paltry 38, while chasing a mammoth 193, giving the side the confidence to push forward with impetus.

And that confidence was key when Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan were asked to once again face Rohit Sharma-led India in their very first Super Fours match.

India hit opening bowlers Naseem Shah and Mohammad Hasnain out of the park more often than not in the powerplays, but as soon as Nawaz and Shadab were introduced, India’s scoring rate came down.

With a 182-run target to chase, Pakistan faltered early on, but Nawaz came good with the bat after performing with the ball, to help the Men in Green level the honours in the 2022 Asia Cup.

Pakistan are favourites to play for the coveted continental trophy in the final, but they have to face a familiar yet inspired Afghanistan in Sharjah, a spin heaven, to make their case strong.

While captain Babar is lacking his Midas touch in the Asia Cup, keeper-batter Rizwan has taken the responsibility of scoring the bulk of runs at the top of the order for Pakistan. He is currently the top-scorer in the event (192 runs), just above Indian star batter Virat Kohli (154).

Apart from the star opening duo of Babar and Rizwan, left-handed batter Fakhar Zaman, and big-hitters Asif Ali and Iftikhar Ahmed are also waiting in line to prove their mettle in the event.

Come the contest against Mohammad Nabi-led Afghanistan, Pakistan will once again be looking at Nawaz and Shadab to inspire the team on the spin-friendly Sharjah pitch. While Rizwan’s purple patch and batting firepower in the lower order would give them hope to chase any target.

Afghanistan’s chances

Afghanistan have been dealt a bad hand in the Super Fours of the Asia Cup.

They have already lost to Sri Lanka in their opener, but their two matches in two days on different venues, keeping the hot UAE weather in mind, won’t make life easy for them even if they down Pakistan on Wednesday.

Afghanistan will have to beat both Babar’s charges and India if they want a shot at the silverware, and their all-round performances with both bat and ball have shown that they have the ability to do it.

The question is not how for Afghanistan, it is whether they’ll be able to gather themselves after losing to Sri Lanka.

Captain Nabi and star spinner Rashid Khan will be the key players for Afghanistan. However, their young and energetic pace attack and the Zadran brothers have shown the potential to take the game away from oppositions on their day.

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