Pakistan are scheduled to face Afghanistan tonight in their Group 2 fixture of the T20 World Cup 2021 in Dubai, and here are our five reasons why Babar Azam and Co should not take their neighbours lightly.
1- Afghan spinners truly are world-class
This is not something we or the world is saying just to hype up the Afghans or get their confidence going. In Rashid Khan and Mujeebur Rehman, Afghanistan possess two truly world-class spinners. There may be question marks on their ages but there is no doubt about their quality.
The pair showed their ability in their last game, both combining to take nine of the 10 Scotland wickets, with Mujeeb taking a five-for.
Both are among the top five T20I bowlers in the ICC rankings, with another Afghan spinner, Mohammad Nabi, coming in at number 26. For context, no Pakistani spin bowler is among the top 30. Shadab Khan languishes in the 33rd position.
Historically speaking, Pakistan batters have been good players of spin but Rashid and Mujeeb are so unconventional, you never know what might happen against them.
2- Afghan openers’ aggression
Pakistan Super League fans know all about Hazratallah Zazai, who lit up the league in the five matches he played for Peshawar Zalmi this year. He averaged 42.4 runs in the tournament at an astonishing strike rate of 185.96 in PSL 2021.
For Afghanistan, he plays with the same aggressive approach, as he averages 40.93 at a strike rate of 154.65, which is still extremely high for an opener.
The lefty gives no respect to the bowler, no matter who is in front of him. Pretty much the same goes for Mohammad Shahzad, who is also known to take his chances.
The duo provided Afghanistan with a boundary-laden 54-run stand in the mauling of Scotland. If they manage to last a few overs against Pakistan, the damage could be immense.
3- Afghans play fearless cricket
Afghanistan cricket team is known to play fearless cricket. Their philosophy of meaning violence with both the bat and ball is why they find themselves in the seventh position of ICC’s T20 team ranking, ahead of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and defending world champions, the West Indies.
So those expecting Afghan batters to pay Pakistan’s superstar players any respect during the match could be surprised. If the ball is there to be hit, or even if it isn’t, expect Afghan batters to fully go for their shots, no matter who the bowler is.
4- Pakistan carry the ‘heavy’ favourites tag
Pakistan cricket team is playing superbly but on the flip side, they now carry the heavy burden of being one of the favourites for the tournament. In this fixture against Afghanistan, they are heavy favourites and that has been known to drag the team down at times in the past.
The pressure to deliver a victory will be on Pakistan, whereas Afghanistan would likely feel no stress, thanks to their underdog status.
5- The ‘revenge’ factor
On the political front, Pakistan has been blamed by the US and the Ashraf Ghani government it backed for the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, even if Islamabad has on many occasions called them “scapegoating” attempts.
There is a chance that some or all of the Afghan cricketers might be harbouring those sentiments within, and so tonight’s game may not just be a cricket match for them but also a chance for revenge. Of course, such political agendas can inspire as well as backfire but if it does the former, we could see Afghan players give more than their 100 per cent.
Header photo: Shadab Khan (R) runs between the wickets as Afghanistan's wicketkeeper Ikram Ali Khil gestures during the 2019 Cricket World Cup in Leeds, northern England, on June 29, 2019. — AFP/File