A desperate Pakistan will be wary of a competent group of Afghanistan spinners’ ability to strike hard on an often-gripping Chepauk pitch when the teams meet in the World Cup match in Chennai on Monday.
A win is mandatory for Babar Azam’s side after two successive defeats against India and Australia, as another slip up will severely hamper their ambitions to reach the semi-finals of the tournament.
Currently, they are in the fifth position with four points from as many matches but their net run rate of -0.456 is a worry, and it needs improvement.
Pakistan’s big headache will be their batters’ travails, especially against spinners.
Even on a batting beauty in Bengaluru, they gave four crucial wickets to Aussie leg-spinner Adam Zampa, and struggled to read his skidders.
Afghanistan have undeniable quality in their spin ranks as Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman can really trouble the best, and on a potentially favourable surface can kick up a mayhem.
In that context, Pakistan will need a steady effort from their batters, particularly from Babar, who have been underwhelming in this event so far.
Mohammad Rizwan, the current tournament top-scorer with 294 runs, has done the bulk of work with the bat for them.
But rest of the middle-order batters, like Saud Shakeel and Iftikhar Ahmed, have not done enough to keep confidence in them.
Pakistan’s bowling too has not evoked much hope either. Traditionally, their bowlers have chipped in when their batters go off the boil, but this time they have not really stepped up to the occasion.
Left-arm pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi showed some signs of regaining his range with a five-wicket haul against Australia at the M Chinnaswamy stadium. But the form of other two pacers, Haris Rauf and Hasan Ali, remains a concern as they are still coming to terms with the demands of bowling inside the Power Play.
Pakistan always had some handy spinners supplementing the fast bowlers, but here left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawas and leg-spinners Shadab Khan and Usama Mir just don’t look the part.
They were neither able to pluck wickets nor stop the flow of runs, a primary reason behind Pakistan’s failure to exert control over their rivals in the middle overs.
And that will precisely be the point Afghanistan will look to cash in on tomorrow, and they will eye a better outing from their batsmen.
Their batters, except opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz, too haven’t been able to fire in a desired manner in the quadrennial big bash.
There have been flashes by Ikram Alikhil, Azmatullah Omarzai and Hashmathullah Shahidi but they need to infuse some consistency into their performance as Pakistan are still a far more experienced opponent at such stages.
They also enjoy a 7-0 edge in the head-to-head stats against Afghanistan in ODIs.
Apart from the on-field calculations, the Pakistan vs Afghanistan rivalry has developed some needle to it over the last few years.
If the teams can fire themselves up to the occasion, then we may just see another classic.
Afghanistan: Hashmatullah Shahidi (c), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Ibrahim Zadran, Riaz Hassan, Rahmat Shah, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Ikram Alikhil (wk), Azmatullah Omarzai, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Noor Ahmad, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Abdul Rahman and Naveen ul Haq.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Saud Shakeel, Iftikhar Ahmed, Salman Ali Agha, Mohammad Nawaz, Usama Mir, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi and Mohammad Wasim.
Source : Rediff