Two emphatic wins against South Africa and New Zealand and Pakistan’s seemingly despondent World Cup campaign has suddenly breathed a fresh lease of life as the 1992 champions hope to continue their resurgent run while keeping complacency at bay when they play Afghanistan in Leeds.
Staring at a possible league stage elimination after three defeats and a washout, Pakistan staged a remarkable comeback winning back to back games to keep themselves in contention for a semifinal berth. Two losses for England only brightened their chances but they will need to be at their absolute best apart from relying on a bit of luck to make their way into the last four.
There were quite a few positives from Pakistan’s six-wicket victory over New Zealand, with Babar Azam’s century and Shaheen Afridi’s five-wicket haul being the most prominent ones. Shaheen, in particular, was lethal as he produced a riveting spell to peg back New Zealand’s top order. Azam then played out the chase with utmost calmness to take his side to a win on a tricky surface.
It is all coming together for Pakistan as the tournament reaches its business end. Their bowling looks in fine form with Mohammed Amir, Afridi and Wahab Riaz all chipping with crucial strikes. Their batting has also been bolstered by the inclusion of Haris Sohail who has contributed heavily in Pakistan’s last two wins.
Afghanistan, on the other hand, have not been able to register a single win in the entire tournament with their off-field issues being more in the limelight than on-field performances. After Mohammad Shahzad was left out of the squad due to lack of fitness, Afghanistan have now sent pacer Aftab Alam back home due to a disciplinary violation.
Their bowlers, spinners to be precise, have still stood tall in the tournament but the batting has really let them down. However, with nothing to lose, Afghanistan would hope to enjoy their game and come out with a surprise win against Pakistan, thus hampering their chances of making it to the knockout stage. They did get the better of Pakistan in the warm-up games ahead of the tournament and will look for a repeat of that performance.
Last Five ODIs
Pakistan: W W L L NR
The tournament started on rocky roads for Pakistan. They lost badly to West Indies, won against England but two back to back defeats against India and Australia meant they had critics breathing down their neck like anything. But two successive wins have suddenly brought their campaign back to life and they will hope for a similar stellar show in the final two games as well.
Afghanistan: L L L L L
It has really been a sorry tournament for Afghanistan. They came with a lot of promise but have failed to deliver. They did run India close and should have ideally closed the game but with seven losses on the trot, it will need a lot of inspiration from somewhere to get Afghanistan back to winnings ways.
Players to watch out for:
Babar Azam: Undoubtedly the best batsmen in the Pakistan camp, Azam is a treat to the eyes when in full flow. He has rarely looked out of touch but was often guilty of throwing away starts earlier in the tournament. But he showed his class when it mattered the most. Against New Zealand, on a tricky surface, the 24-year-old produced a century for the ages. He will hope to continue some of that form come Saturday too.
Rashid Khan: The wily leg-spinner was taken to the cleaners by England but he bounced back emphatically against India proving why he is one of the most sought after cricketers in the world. The 20-year-old hasn’t had the best of campaigns but will be key to Afghanistan’s success on a surface which is likely to take turn.
Pakistan: They are unlikely to make any changes to the winning combination for this must-win tie.
Afghanistan: With nothing to lose, Afghanistan might want to bring in an extra batsman while they might also look to bring pacer Hamid Hassan into the picture.
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 (wk), Asghar Afghan, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shinwari, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Sayed Ahmed Shirzad, Hamid Hassan, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Ikram Ali Khil.