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Revived Pakistan aim for smooth march to semi-finals against Afghanistan
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Revived Pakistan aim for smooth march to semi-finals against Afghanistan

Pakistan are currently riding high in confidence emanating from their emphatic back-to-back wins which have launched them in the hunt for sealing a spot in the final four.

They now seek to build on the momentum heading into their remaining two games of the group stage which are equally important for their chances to remain in the competition.

The first of these clashes takes place on Saturday against Afghanistan at Headingley, a venue that recently witnessed a low-scoring encounter between New Zealand and South Africa.

It has been a dramatic turnaround from Pakistan since their dispiriting loss to arch-rivals India that triggered a plethora of criticism from fans and former cricketers.

A renewed sense of self-belief and vigour coupled with a few changes in the team has set into motion a much-needed transformation of Pakistan that was languishing at the bottom half of the table for most of the tournament.

Babar Azam's elegant century in a pressure situation to lead his team over the line against an unbeaten New Zealand has now strengthened all the views held regarding the parallels with the 1992 World Cup, giving even the skeptics a moment to reconsider the unlikely theory of repeating the past heroics.

Afghanistan came into the World Cup with a lot of promise but everything seems to have fallen apart for them.

They sit at the bottom of the table with an embarrassing record of seven straight losses and their defeats have been made more bitter due to controversies off the field.

Despite all the negativity surrounding the team lately, they would still be determined to repeat the victory they achieved against Pakistan in the warm-up game ahead of the commencement of the World Cup.

The key to Afghanistan's success lies largely in their quality spin department which has been a constant source of success for them while the batting is to be blamed for lacking maturity and responsibility.

Haris Sohail the 'game-changer'

Haris Sohail's timely inclusion in the Pakistan playing XI in place of the out of form Shoaib Malik has paid dividends almost instantly.

Sohail's aggressive approach to the game has inspired a new Pakistan that was previously heavily dependent on the top three to score the bulk of the runs for them.

Scores of 89 and 68 signal Sohail's resurgence and he would be eyeing another match-winning contribution to seal the deal for his team once more.

Mujeeb's new ball prowess

Afghanistan's Mujeeb ur Rahman has clearly been the pick of the bowlers for them in the past two games against Bangladesh and India.

His ability to fervently pitch the ball within the line of the stumps and jag it back both ways induces error-prone shots from batsmen resulting from misjudgment.

If Gulbadin Naib's men have to make a tight contest, a lot rests on the youngster's shoulders to deliver and scythe through Pakistan's top order.

The last time the two sides met in the Asia Cup at Abu Dhabi, Mujeeb returned miserly figures of two for 33, showing great skill to deceive Fakhar Zaman upfront. He would be needing more of the same magic this time around as well.

Squads

Pakistan: Sarfaraz Ahmed (c, wk), Asif Ali, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Amir, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Imam-ul-Haq, Shadab Khan, Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz, Haris Sohail, Imad Wasim, Fakhar Zaman

Afghanistan: Gulbadin Naib (c), 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, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Ikram Ali Khil (wk)