Enigmatic Pakistan will hope to continue their resurgent run while keeping complacency at bay when they play Afghanistan in the ICC World Cup on Saturday. Staring at a possible league stage elimination after three defeats and a washout, Pakistan staged a remarkable comeback with wins over South Africa and New Zealand to keep their hopes alive.
A couple of losses for hosts England only brightened the 1992 winners’ prospects of a semifinal berth. There were quite a few positives from the six-wicket victory over New Zealand, with Babar Azam’s century and Shaheen Afridi’s five-wicket haul being the most prominent ones.
The worry now is that after beating South Africa and then-unbeaten New Zealand, a feeling of complacency may creep in, but Pakistan cannot allow that to happen. The current team will also hope that it is able to make the similarities with the country’s 1992 campaign even more striking.
Given the way the tournament has so far panned out for the green shirts, it is impossible to ignore the parallels with Imran Khan’s team, which also effected a stunning turnaround on way to winning the title.
Pakistan’s rally and England’s reverses have opened up the tournament but the players will do well to not worry about other results. If Pakistan beat Afghanistan and Bangladesh, chances of reaching the last four could increase.
The inclusion of Harris Sohail at the expense of the miserably out-of-form Shoaib Malik has lent both stability and flair to Pakistan’s batting. While left-arm pacer Afridi has added firepower to their bowling that is led by Mohammad Amir.
Afghanistan, who came close to causing the tournament’s biggest upset against India, have won hearts with their spirited showings, but they would have wanted to do better.
A win over a big cricketing nation like Pakistan would be a nice way to exit the big stage, and the likes of Rashid Khan and Gulbadin Naib are aware of that.
Pakistan: Sarfaraz Ahmed (C), Fakhar Zaman, Imam ul Haq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Shahdab Khan, Mohammed Hafeez, Mohammed Hasnain, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Wahab Riaz, Mohammed Aamir, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Asif Ali.
Afghanistan: Gulbadin Naib (C), Sayed Ahmad Shirzad, Hazratullah Zazai, Asghar Afghan, Rashid Khan, Mohammed Nabi, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Dawlat Zadran, Najibullah Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Samiullah Shinwari, Rahmat Shah, Noor Ali Zadran, Ikram Alikhil.
Match starts at 3pm IST.
(With PTI Inputs)