India's Rohit Sharma and Sri Lanka's Dasun Shanaka at the toss ahead of their T20 cricket match of Asia Cup in Dubai on Tuesday.
Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
A resilient Afghanistan will fancy their chances of an upset win against the formidable and the favourites Pakistan in their Super 4 match at the Asia Cup in Sharjah on Wednesday.
Afghanistan got their campaign off to a stellar start but lost their momentum with a loss against Sri Lanka, whom they had mauled in the first encounter.
After losing their first match in the Super 4, Afghanistan will have to win both the remaining matches keep their dreams of Asian title alive.
Afghanistan’s strength is their brand of fearless cricket and spin bowling. The three-pronged spin attack of Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman can rip through the best batting line-up of the world on a given day.
They play in the different franchise leagues of the world like IPL and PSL. They have the enormous experience which they bring into the national side.
Rashid is one of the most sought-after players in the franchise cricket. He has led Afghanistan to many memorable victories. Nabi and Mujeeb have also rubbed their shoulders with the international stars in playing the leagues around the world.
It is Mujeeb, who can be a real threat to Pakistan. Sharjah is his favourite hunting ground. He has an impeccable record on this ground. Mujeeb had taken five wickets in the span of 16 balls against Scotland during the World Cup and he followed up that with another three-wicket haul against Bangladesh at the Asia Cup.
Mujeeb and Rashid shared six wickets between them to push Bangladesh on the backfoot right from the beginning. Mujeeb had triggered the collapse as Bangladesh could manage to muster only 127 which Afghanistan chased down for the loss of three wickets only.
Their pace attack is also quite good. In the first match, it was pace spearhead Fazalhaq Farooqi, who did the damage, with his three-wicket haul. Afghanistan bowling coach Umar Gul predicted a tough game but said they are confident.
“Pakistan is a very strong team. I know we are underdogs in the match but the atmosphere in the dressing is upbeat. We are confident and will take to the field with a game plan. We have a plan for Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam. We have made a strategy as we do against the other teams,” said Gul.
“We did not bowl well in the last match. We missed our all-rounder Hashmat. He has good pace and bowls quite a few overs in the middle. We also dropped a few chances. We will try to rectify those mistakes and come back strongly,” he added.
In batting, they have some hard-hitters, like Hazaratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Ibrahim Zadran and Najibullah Zadran. All of them have the capability to tear apart any bowling attack of the world.
Najibullah and Gurbaz are in good form. Gurbaz scored 45-ball 84 against Lanka while Najibullah smashed 17-ball 45 against Bangladesh to tilt the game in Afghanistan’s favour.
Pakistan, who came into the Asia Cup as one of the favourites, will bid to live up to their billing and confirm their berth for the final.
After beating India, Pakistan are brimming with the confidence. And they have almost put their one leg in the final. They are clear favourites against minnows Afghanistan and Sri Lanka in their remaining two matches.
But, Pakistan have been ravaged by injury woes. Pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi was ruled out of the Asia Cup before the tournament began. Mohammad Wasim Junior was the second victim and Shahnawaz Dahani also picked up an injury and could not play against India.
But in the latest blow, opening batsman and wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan hurt his back, which has added to the growing list of injuries to Pakistan.
He was sent for an MRI scan. He is doubtful for Afghanistan match. However, according to the sources close to the development of the matter, Rizwan will be available for Afghanistan game.
Rizwan is the mainstay of Pakistan batting along with captain Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman. He has already scored two fifties in the tournament and led the chase against India with a brilliant 71.
Fakhar is also among the runs but the form of Babar is an area of concern for Pakistan. He is yet to click. He is getting off to starts but not converting them into big scores. Mohammad Nawaz is new revelation for Pakistan.
He took one wicket and scored a 20-ball 43 to spur the run rate and keep the chase alive when the asking rate was above 10 runs an over. He can be called as the discovery of the Asia Cup.
Bowling is weakened due to the so many injuries but they have managed to do well with a make-shift attack. Spinners Nawaz and Shadab Khan are likely to lead the bowling charge on the Sharjah turf.
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