Big picture – a massive occasion for Nepal
Nepal are making their Asia Cup debut. They are meeting Pakistan for the first time in any format. It’s a massive occasion for them, a day of celebration no matter how things pan out on the field.
Having only gained ODI status in 2018, Nepal are now ranked a tantalising 15th in the format, a sign of how close they are to achieving even bigger dreams given that the next ODI World Cup, in 2027, will feature 14 teams.
Pakistan, meanwhile, are playing what is likely to be one of just two home games in a tournament they are technically hosting. Such are the times we live in. Fans in Multan, then, would be well advised to brave the temperatures (the forecast is for a maximum of 38 degrees Celsius) and catch this rare glimpse of their heroes.
Pakistan WWWLW (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)
In the spotlight
After years of being overdependent on their top three, Pakistan are beginning to put together a promising ODI middle order, and a lot of the credit for this must go to Agha Salman, who has a 40-plus average and a 100-plus strike rate after his first 14 games. He has been in a rich vein of form over recent months – he followed an excellent home ODI series against New Zealand with aggressive Test knocks of 83 and 132* on the tour of Sri Lanka, and he comes into the Asia Cup on the back of a crucial unbeaten 38 to end an otherwise quiet series against Afghanistan on a positive note.
Pakistan announced their playing XI on Tuesday. They picked three fast bowlers – Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf – and two spin-bowling allrounders – Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz – with Salman also capable of chipping in with his offspin. That meant there was no room for Faheem Ashraf and Mohammad Wasim, who took a four-wicket haul for Pakistan A against Nepal during the Emerging Cup in July.
Pakistan: 1 Fakhar Zaman, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Babar Azam (capt), 4 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 5 Agha Salman, 6 Iftikhar Ahmed, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Shaheen Shah Afridi, 10 Naseem Shah, 11 Haris Rauf
Nepal (probable): 1 Kushal Bhurtel, 2 Aasif Sheikh (wk), 3 Bhim Sharki, 4 Rohit Paudel (capt), 5 Kushal Malla, 6 Dipendra Singh Airee, 7 Gulsan Jha, 8 Sompal Kami, 9 Karan KC, 10 Sandeep Lamichhane, 11 Lalit Rajbanshi
Pitch and conditions
Multan hosted all three ODIs during West Indies’ tour of Pakistan last year. All three matches produced 250-plus first-innings scores, with Pakistan chasing down 306 in the first ODI. The top three wicket-takers in that series were Nawaz, Shadab and Akeal Hosein, and if conditions play similarly, spinners can expect to play a significant role again. The weather is expected to be hot and dry, with temperatures reaching the high 30s (Celsius).