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Asia Cup: Unpredictable Pakistan brace up for India humdinger

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Come Feb 27, when two-time champions Pakistan begin their campaign against arch-rivals India in a much-awaited contest, Afridi and his men will look to rise above a miserable year gone by.

There’s always an air of unpredictability surrounding the Men in Green. One day they may play like a team possessed and the another day hit a nadir. They can dictate terms as underdogs and can also take a beating being the favourites.

Like always, the team has some extraordinary talent, but their fortunes over the years have fluctuated between admiration and humiliation. However, this is the same iota of uncertainty that makes them perennial darkhorses in any tournament they play.

Come the 27th of February, when two-time champions Pakistan begin their Asia Cup campaign against arch-rivals India in much-awaited contest, Shahid Afridi and his men will look to rise above a miserable year gone by and get back in shape for the upcoming ICC World Twenty20.

Pakistan have slipped dramatically in ICC Rankings over the last 12 months.

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Putting things in perspective, since the 2104-15 season, Pakistan have managed to win just three out of eight T20I matches, with a couple of them coming against minnows Zimbabwe and one against Sri Lanka.

Other than that, Pakistan have lost matches against major teams like Australia, England and New Zealand, and also a one-off T20I against Bangladesh last year.

From being one of the best a few years ago to slumping to the seventh spot in the T20I rankings, Pakistan have witnessed a slide that leaves them with much to ponder ahead of two mega T20 tournaments.

It is also one of the primary reasons why the country’s selectors and coach Waqar Younis opted for a young squad for Asia Cup and World T20, contrary to their earlier squads that comprised of more seniors than youngsters.

Pakistan have four uncapped players - batsmen Khurram Manzoor and Babar Azam, fast bowler Rumman Raees, and allrounder Mohammad Nawaz apart from the seasoned Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez and Afridi. The selectors, however, dropped experienced opener Ahmed Shehzad and veteran pace bowler Umar Gul.

On paper, the team looks raw, having little experience. But it was picked keeping in mind some of the recent performances.

Nawaz, Raees and Manzoor have impressed in the domestic tournaments and also during recent Pakistan A team tours. Nawaz, a left-arm spinner and left-handed batsman, has already won two Man-of-the-Match awards in the ongoing Pakistan Super League in Dubai.

Interestingly, Azam has scored five half-centuries in nine ODIs but he is yet to play a T20I for Pakistan.

Pakistan, that only last year saw return of international cricket to its soil since an attack on Sri Lankan team in 2009, got a shot in the arm by the PSL - a league based on the model of the Indian Premier League.

The league has provided the selectors a lot of options to pick among young talent, right when they are in the T20 groove.

Although Pakistan don’t have a stable squad like India, they are always capable of throwing a surprise on subcontinental pitches, which makes them dangerous.

Fast bowler Mohammad Amir’s return has also been one of the major positives for Pakistan and his good show in New Zealand will only boost the team’s confidence.

In the absence of spinner Saeed Ajmal, once a top force for Pakistan, and banned Yasir Shah, the onus will be on captain Afridi to lead the team’s attack along with Wahab Riaz, Amir and Mohammad Irfan.

While their bowling attack is free from any major chink, it is their batting that gives a vulnerable look.

Pakistan’s batting order has struggled against most opponents and lacks depth. Also, playing four newcomers can be a gamble that can go either way. Pakistan’s batting will mostly depend on ‘Professor’ Hafeez, Malik and Afridi while they will also expect consistency from Umar Akmal and Sarfaraz Ahmed.

Despite these shortcomings, Pakistan remains a potent threat and a top contender for the Asia Cup trophy.

SQUAD: Shahid Afridi (c), Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Babar Azam, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Anwar Ali, Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Nawaz, Khurram Manzoor, Rumman Raees

COACH: Waqar Younis

STRENGTHS: Fast bowlers

WEAKNESS: Inconsistent batting and poor fielding

CHANCES: With unpredictability being their major weapon, don’t be surprised if they reach the final

FIXTURES

February 27: Pakistan vs India

February 29: Pakistan v TBD

March 2nd: Bangladesh v Pakistan

March 4th: Pakistan v Sri Lanka