Score 250-260 and let their bowlers take care of the rest. This has been the practice that has won Afghanistan both their Group B matches, and they will go with the same game plan when they take on the unpredictable Pakistan team in the Super Four encounter of Asia Cup 2018 at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Friday (September 21).
The two teams have had slightly contrasting fortunes in their road to the Super Four. While Afghanistan defeated Sri Lanka and Bangladesh convincingly, Pakistan, after winning against Hong Kong, were schooled by the Rohit Sharma-led Indian side.
Afghanistan's biggest stars have been their spinners - Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi. Apart from providing regular breakthroughs in the middle overs, the trio has also been ridiculously economical. Rashid, in particular, has led the spin department scalping four wickets in two matches at an average of 9.75 and economy rate of 2.38. In their last game against Bangladesh on Thursday, the 20-year-old legspinner came to bowl only after 20 overs to destruct Bangladesh's chase even further. The spinners have found ample support from pacers as Aftab Alam and Gulbadin Naib too have been amongst wickets.
Batting has never been Afghanistan's strong point but the likes of Mohammad Shahzad, Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi have contributed enough to help them breach that 250-run mark. Meanwhile, Rashid and seam-bowling all-rounder Naib have managed to provide Bangladesh that late surge. It was their unbeaten 95-run stand against Bangladesh that helped Afghanistan recover from 160 for 7 and post 255 runs on the board.
Meanwhile, all's not well with Pakistan. They rely too much on their openers Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman to give them solid starts in almost every game. The likes of Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz Ahmed have looked good in patches but have failed to score big runs. Pakistan will need them to bat long, and alongside hitters like Asif Ali and Faheem Ashraf.
In Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Usman Khan and Junaid Khan Pakistan have a formidable pace attack. However, Amir has struggled to get going in ODIs this year, averaging 87 with just three wickets in nine matches. It won't come as a surprise if the team management replaces him with Junaid for the next clash. Pakistan might also bring in Mohammad Nawaz in place of Shadab Khan, who is down with a niggle.
The two sides have played against each other only twice in ODIs, with Pakistan winning both of them. The Men in Green will go into this encounter as favourites but will be well aware of the threats Rashid and Co. can cause especially in these conditions.
Pakistan: Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Shan Masood, Sarfraz Ahmed (capt/wk), Shoaib Malik, Haris Sohail, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan, Usman Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Asif Ali, Mohammad Amir.
Afghanistan: Asghar Afghan (capt), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Ihsanullah Janat, Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid Khan, Najibullah Zadran, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Aftab Alam, Samiullah Shenwari, Munir Ahmad, Sayed Shirzad, Sharafuddin Ashraf.
Afghanistanafghanistan vs pakistanAsia Cup 2018Babar AzamFakhar ZamanJunaid KhanMohammad AmirMohammad NabipakistanPakistan vs AfghanistanRashid KhanUsman Khan
First Published: September 21, 2018, 10:57 AM IST