With the final squads for the World Cup in place now, the time has finally come for Pakistan and Afghanistan to test their pool of 15 players who will fight for the ultimate glory. Starting Friday, both the Asian sides will lock horns in what can be called a prelude to the World Cup — warm-up tie.While Afghanistan look like a settled group having played two short series — against Scotland and Ireland — Pakistan have a lot to worry about having gone down to England 0-4 and with two short-on-match-practice incoming players, Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz, making it to the squad at the last moment.
Last Five ODIs
Pakistan’s fortunes plummeted to new lows as the side failed miserably against England just before the World Cup. While the batsmen consistently raked up scores over 300 on flat English tracks, the bowlers just couldn’t put up a fight. The result was they lost four battles, while rain came to their rescue at Kennington Oval and the match was washed out. Fakhar Zaman, Imam Ul Haq and Babar Azam were among the runs but couldn’t provide a match-winning performance for the team.
Fast bowlers failed to contain England batsmen and leaked runs in each match. Even though Shaheen Afridi claimed five wickets, his economy never came down below 8 rpo. The only notable performance with the ball came from spinner Imad Wasim who managed to bag eight wickets.
On the other hand, Afghanistan have fared a lot better than their Pakistani counterparts winning three ODIs in their last five outings, losing one to Ireland recently. In these past few matches, the batting has been heavily reliant on veterans Mohammad Shahzad and Rahmat Shah, with former scoring a ton against Ireland in their last match. Hazratullah Zazai and Asghar Aghan meanwhile have chipped in with valuable contributions.
Bowling, without any doubt, is their stronger suit with the presence of Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman. In fact, their pace battery too has started showing sparks of brilliance, be it Gulbadin Naib’s 6/43 against Ireland or Aftab Alam’s 3/28 versus the same opposition. But they will have an onerous task of restricting an in-form Pakistan batting line up come Friday.
Issues to Fine-tune
Pakistan will just be looking at the warm-up ties as an opportunity to get their bowling strategy right. They dug their own graveyards by giving pace to the opposition batsmen on flat tracks in the recent series against England, and this is something they would want to amend against Afghanistan now. Wahab and Amir’s late selection has raised a few eyebrows, so they will be looking to prove a point to their critics. Batting, surprisingly, is clicking at the moment for them and isn’t much of a concern.
On the other hand, Afghanistan have a new skipper in Gulbadin Naib, which hasn’t gone down too well with Mohammed Nabi and Rashid Khan. So Naib will have the huge responsibility of taking the team together. Apart from that their middle order is a bit of a concern. There is a presence of dashers in the line up who can blast the ball away and score quick runs, but they need an anchor who can stablise the innings if the side loses quick wickets. Nabi could be that man for Afghanistan. Also, all eyes will be on old-horse Hamid Hassan, who has come into the team after a long gap.
Zaman and Imam have been scoring heavily for Pakistan there is no reason why they can’t keep churning out big runs at the World Cup. With Babar Azam in their side too, Pakistan batting would be confident of getting big totals. Talking about the bowling, Imad has given some hopes, that he could be the one who can bag wickets in the middle overs.
With scores of 55 & 101 against Scotland & Ireland, Afghan hopes will rest on the shoulders of stocky Shahzad. He is their most successful ODI batsman with over 2700 runs and 6 tons. He along with Rahmat will have to do the bulk of the scoring for their team if they want to go far in the tournament. As far as bowling goes, fast bowlers Naib and Aftab Alam have been impressive, along with perennial performer Rashid.
Afghanistan: Gulbadin Naib (C), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Noor Ali Zadran, Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Afghan, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shinwari, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Aftab Alam, Hamid Hassan and Mujeeb ur Rahman.
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Hasnain.
First Published: May 23, 2019, 3:43 PM IST