Bangladesh offer Pakistan another shot at redemption in Asia Cup

Updated Sep 27 2018

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The Sarfraz Ahmed-led unit has failed to deliver a convincing performance following their victory over Hong Kong in their opening game. — File
The Sarfraz Ahmed-led unit has failed to deliver a convincing performance following their victory over Hong Kong in their opening game. — File

The number of blunders Sarfraz Ahmed and co have made in this Asia Cup, they should have been brainstorming for ways to sneak into Pakistan by now. But thanks to the unusually forgiving nature of this tournament, Pakistan will have another shot at redemption when they take on Bangladesh today in Abu Dhabi.

However, for the Men in Green to redeem themselves, the task is not just to win, pick up two points and qualify for the final. The task for them is to win in style, to make the men in dark green suffer like they've suffered themselves at the hands of India.

Read: The real reason Pakistan keeps losing to India at cricket

Only a highly one-sided match that ends with at least a seven, eight-wicket win or 100-plus-run annihilation would begin to make up for the sufferings that Sarfraz's men's sufferings have inflicted on their fans.

Sarfraz's dilemmas

The first real test of skipper Sarfraz will come a lot before the first ball is bowled or even the coin is flipped for the toss, as apart from the first India game, Pakistan have not named an unchanged line-up.

Of the 11 playing spots, only five have guaranteed, permanent fixtures: Fakhar Zaman due to his Champions Trophy final goodwill still being valid; Sarfraz due to his captaincy; Hasan Ali for his reputation; Babar Azam for his last 12-month average, but only Shoaib Malik for his form.

Clamour to drop Imam from the playing XI has grown ahead of the Bangladesh game. — File
Clamour to drop Imam from the playing XI has grown ahead of the Bangladesh game. — File

The remaining six spots are up for grabs for anyone who can make a decent case. Shan Masood — one of only two players on Pakistan bench to not get a game thus far in Asia Cup 2018 — would have been the suited candidate to replace Imamul Haq up the order as clamour to drop the chief selector's nephew is gaining momentum.

However, Masood himself is also a very questionable pick, thanks to him never having played an ODI and averaging only 24 in Tests. It is unlikely that Sarfraz would hand an ODI debut to someone at this stage.

Asif Ali, meanwhile, has time and again demonstrated that he is a firm disciple of the Shahid Afridi school of hit-or-miss thought. The only difference being that he can't bowl, field or look glamorous like Lala, which automatically puts his place in the side in jeopardy.

Ashraf is pushing for a return to the playing eleven against Bangladesh. — AFP
Ashraf is pushing for a return to the playing eleven against Bangladesh. — AFP

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Faheem Ashraf may have unknowingly enhanced his reputation by being absent in the last two games: the laborious win over the Afghans and a routine thrashing at the hands of India. It wouldn't be surprising if he gets the nod over the poor man's Afridi.

Shadab Khan hasn't set the world alight this Asia Cup, but the much talked about lack of specialist spinners means that he is unlikely to get the axe. For the same reasons, Mohammad Nawaz might also retain his spot.

The most difficult choices will have to be made in the pace department. A wicketless Mohammad Amir who can no longer make the ball obey his commands is a pointless Mohammad Amir. In need of a reset, he surely cannot be picked for this game.

Junaid Khan is one of the two candidates to replace the out-of-form Mohammad Amir. — File
Junaid Khan is one of the two candidates to replace the out-of-form Mohammad Amir. — File

Question is whether to replace him with the solid but unspectacular Usman Shinwari or the Amir-like strike bowler Junaid Khan, who has inexplicably not been tried even once this tournament. The choice of making the choice can be eliminated by picking both and sacrificing Shaheen Afridi — who's done really well — but then that would be unfair on the youngster.

As mentioned in one of the previous previews, Sarfraz's line-ups and post-toss decisions have both been flawed on several occasions, which have contributed heavily to the team's plight. It is imperative that he gets them right this time.

The final word: Even if Pakistan players get their acts together, Bangladesh cannot be written out completely. The Tigers have also had a bumpy Asia Cup ride so far but they too have quality in their ranks. Having said that, I'm still backing Pakistan to pull it off and scrape through to set us up for another agonising finale.


Kumail Zaidi is a cricket aficionado based in Karachi.