Amid all the criticism on scheduling of Asia Cup, the main round is over and we move to the Super Fours. Pakistan will take on Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi, while in the other game, India do battle with Bangladesh.
Both Afghanistan and Bangladesh will be taking field once again within 16 hours of finishing their group game, with Bangladesh forced to travel to Dubai as well. Such is the scheduling.
All that aside, the focus turns to the next round now. Pakistan were thumped by India on Wednesday while Afghanistan – termed the dark horses of the tournament – have won both their group games against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh comprehensively.
While the India-Pakistan clash grabbed all the headlines in the lead-up to the match, the relations between Pakistan and its western neighbour haven’t been good either in the recent past. But Pakistan will need to put all the off-field affair aside as they prepare to face the fearsome Afghan spin attack for the first time. The last time these two sides faced in an ODI was in 2014 Asia Cup.
Afghanistan have, no doubt, already exceeded expectations by qualifying for this stage at Sri Lanka's expense. That's more than can be said of Pakistan, who put in perhaps the most disappointing ODI performance in years against India. Pakistan need to bounce back strong against Afghanistan, before their next clash with India a day later. On the other hand, Afghanistan will look to continue with their formula of batting first and handing the mantle to their bowling to lead them home.
Pakistan are faced with the dilemma of Mohammad Amir’s decreasing ability of taking wickets, while Shadab Khan’s injury is also a concern. That might bring Junaid Khan and Mohammad Nawaz into contention.
For Afghanistan, barring anything odd overnight, they are expected to go in with the same side.
The spin-wizard, who turned 20 on Thursday and starred in Bangladesh thumping with his all-round performance, is expected to dominate the game. He may not be your regular leg-spinner, but his uncanny accuracy and fast action are expected to trouble Pakistan, who were found out against Indian spinners.
While Pakistan will be looking to their openers, especially Fakhar Zaman, to provide them a solid foundation, it’s Babar Azam who is needed to lead the way and play a longer knock. In the game against India, he looked the most balanced batsman along with Shoaib Malik and Pakistan needs him to the best of his tunes before India encounter on Sunday.
Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Ihsanullah Janat, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Asghar Afghan (capt), Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Aftab Alam, Mujeeb Ur Rehman
Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), Asif Ali, Shadab Khan/Mohammad Nawaz, Faheem Ashraf, Junaid Khan/Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Usman Khan