Afghanistan begin their Asia Cup campaign against Pakistan on Thursday. Pakistan lost their first game by 12 runs against Sri Lanka while Afghanistan have not played an ODI since October last year.
Venue: Fatullah Osmani Stadium, Narayanganj, Bangladesh
Date: Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014
Start time: 2 p.m. local time, 8 a.m. GMT
Weather: Accuweather predicts highs of up to 29 degrees Celsius for the match, but it will feel much hotter than that given the humidity.
TV Info: Star Life OK (Sky Channel 783, U.K.)
Pakistan came within a whisker of pulling off a 297-run chase against Sri Lanka in the tournament opener. If Afghanistan were watching, their bowlers would be most interested in the way Pakistan's top order performed.
Not a single player managed to pass 30 and, as tight as Sri Lanka were, Sharjeel Khan and Sohaib Maqsood were dismissed playing irresponsible shots under no apparent pressure. As usual, Misbah-ul-Haq tried to stitch the innings back together again and was well supported by Umar Akmal, but there was just no back up from the rest of the side. Bilawal Bhatti tried his best with a late charge of 18 off 13, but in the end, Lasith Malinga was just too much to handle for Pakistan.
The story will be very different when the two teams square off on Thursday. They have played each other before—in February 2012—and Pakistan came out trumps, winning by seven wickets. The Afghan bowlers were somewhat out of their depth and although their enthusiasm is contagious, they were too raw and the errors piled up.
The pacemen taking pace off the ball and the slow bowlers tying up the run-rate will be key in this tournament, but as the opening game showed, these are very much batsmen-friendly conditions. Pakistan are certainly favourites, but if there is one team who can capitulate when it's least expected, it is Pakistan.
For Afghanistan, the occasion of taking part in their first major one-day tournament is massive. Skipper Mohammad Nabi will get to test his captaincy prowess in the toughest conditions and with two big tournaments coming up for his side, it's the lessons that are perhaps more important than the results.
That said, Pakistan should inspire great fear—the two sides last met in a Twenty20 in Sharjah back in December, and on that occasion Afghanistan made Pakistan fight until the penultimate ball to achieve victory.
Bilawal Bhatti has played just eight ODIs, but he's already becoming one of the most exciting prospects in Pakistan cricket. He has struggled with the ball thus far, with an average of 59.00 and just eight wickets in the games he has played, but it's his lower-order hitting that's made him so impressive. Putting together an all-round performance surely can't be too far away.
Afghanistan haven't played too much cricket in the last few months, but in a recent T20 against Kenya, Noor Ali scored a fine 50 off 48. As a top-order bat, he will have to help those around him keep calm and set a foundation, even if it might seem impossible against Pakistan's spin wizardry.
Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Sharjeel Khan, Shahid Afridi, Umar Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, Fawad Alam, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, Junaid Khan, Umar Gul, Anwar Ali, Bilawal Bhatti, Mohammad Talha
Mohammad Nabi (capt), Nawroz Mangal, Asghar Stanikzai, Dawlat Zadran, Fazal Niazai, Hamid Hassan, Hamza Hotak, Karim Sadiq, Mirwais Ashraf, Mohammad Shahzad, Najibullah Zadran, Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Samiullah Shenwari, Shapoor Zadran.
Statistics and squads taken from ESPNCricinfo