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Match Preview – Afghanistan vs Pakistan, ICC Cricket World Cup 2023/24, 22nd Match

Big Picture – Advantage Afghanistan?

It’s now roughly halfway through the World Cup, and the table is beginning to take shape. Afghanistan and Pakistan, the two sides that take each other on in Chennai, are nowhere near the head of it, and it’s already beginning to approach must-win territory for each of these sides. Defeat for Afghanistan would almost certainly knock them out, while a Pakistan loss leaves Babar Azam’s side with no further room for error.

Afghanistan will feel like there’s been little to separate the two sides on far too many occasions, but they’re yet to celebrate an ODI win against their fiercest regional rivals. They were famously denied in a heartbreaker at the 2019 World Cup after being presented with a golden opportunity to knock Pakistan out, and victory on Monday would have a near-similar effect. There have been enough encouraging signs to suggest this could be an evenly poised game, though Afghanistan have peppered patches of brilliance with extended spells of mediocrity with both bat and ball.
There are two clear areas where Afghanistan enjoy an advantage over their more decorated opponents: top-order firepower and world-class spin bowling. Rahmanullah Gurbaz alone has hit seven sixes in the powerplay in this World Cup so far, while Pakistan have managed none in the whole of 2023. With Pakistan’s openers out of form, it will be an area where Afghanistan can demonstrate a clear point of difference.
On the bowling front, while Pakistan juggle their spinners and try to figure out a way to get the most out of Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz and Usama Mir, Afghanistan have no issues when it comes to spin. Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman are two of the most prized spinners in world cricket, while Mohammad Nabi has been effectively used to sap opposition momentum through the middle overs. Pakistan, meanwhile, have often needed to turn back to pace, or keep taking expensive spinners out of the attack through the middle overs of innings. Add to that questions around the tactical astuteness of Babar’s in-game captaincy, and Afghanistan will feel there is a Pakistani vulnerability to be exploited there.

Afghanistan LWLLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Pakistan LLWWL

In the spotlight: Ikram Alikhil and Shaheen Afridi

Twenty-two-year-old Ikram Alikhil wasn’t part of Afghanistan’s starting line-up for nearly two months until he was plunged in against England last week. It would turn out to be an inspired selection, with the wicketkeeper-batter shepherding his side through a tricky phase during the middle overs when Afghanistan looked in danger of collapsing. He would score a half-century that helped Afghanistan stun England, while his keeping across the last two games has been impressively assured. He last featured in the Afghan line-up during the sides’ three-match series against Pakistan in August, unable to get a look-in during the Asia Cup. In what feels like a must-win clash for both, he has the chance to ensure he isn’t in line for the chop anytime soon again.

There isn’t much that Pakistan have had to cheer about the past couple of games, but Shaheen Afridi‘s performance against Australia was little short of world-class. In a game where Australia racked up 367, he registered figures of 5 for 54, including the innings’ only maiden over, in an exquisite bowling display that straddled all three phases. Things might have been even better for Pakistan had Usama Mir not shelled a simple chance off his bowling when David Warner – who would go on to score 163 – was on 10. He has a good record against Afghanistan, with 12 wickets at 15.25, and with Pakistan needing to get their World Cup back on track, Shaheen’s leadership with the ball could go a long way.

Team news – Does Usama Mir still make the Pakistan XI?

Afghanistan (possible): 1 Rahmanullah Gurbaz 2 Ibrahim Zadran 3 Rahmat Shah 4 Hashmatullah Shahidi (capt) 5 Azmatullah Omarzai 6 Ikram Alikhil (wk) 7 Mohammad Nabi 8 Rashid Khan 9 Mujeeb Ur Rahman 10 Naveen-ul-Haq 11 Fazalhaq Farooqi

The only question for Pakistan is whether Usama Mir, who had a disappointing previous outing, gets another opportunity in more conducive conditions. One of Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz and Mir will miss out, with Nawaz looking likely to make way.

Pakistan (possible): 1 Abdullah Shafique 2 Imam-ul-Haq 3 Babar Azam (capt) 4 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 5 Saud Shakeel 6 Mohammad Nawaz/Shadab Khan 7 Iftikhar Ahmed 8 Usama Mir 8 9 Hasan Ali 10 Shaheen Shah Afridi 11 Haris Rauf

The pitch will be the same as the one used for the Australia-India game a fortnight ago, which means both sides can expect plenty of turn.

There is an excessive heat warning in Chennai tomorrow, with conditions expected to be particularly oppressive throughout the afternoon. That could mean batting first for the side winning the toss.

“We have played four matches and we are 2-2. We are confident. We accept that we did not play well in the last two matches. We will have to perform up to the mark.”
Imam-ul-Haq recognises the need for an improved performance from Pakistan

*6.20GMT, Oct 22: The stat had erroneously left out Moin Khan. This has been corrected.

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