There’s a growing perception that Group 2 has been all but decided and the India vs New Zealand game is a virtual quarterfinal with Pakistan set to go through as the No. 1 team. It’s on Afghanistan to change it all and throw the group open. They have won their first game against Scotland convincingly and now it’s Pakistan, the form team of the tournament.
Given the depth of the squads and current form, Pakistan shouldn’t have too much difficulty in Dubai, but Afghanistan have a few things running in favour of them.
TOI takes a look at the factors that could help the Afghans and the threat they will have to deal with to make Group 2 a four-way race…
Rashid and the spinners: The Afghan leggie is comfortably the best spinner playing T20 cricket at the moment. He has been a success in franchise leagues across the world and come Friday, if there’s one man who can make it tough for Pakistan, it’s Rashid. Of course, there is Mujeeb ur Rahman and Mohammed Nabi too, but Pakistan are expected to deal with them. It’s Rashid who is the X-factor. The Pakistan top-order, though, like most IPL franchise batters, may look to play Rashid out and attack the other bowlers and inflict maximum damage on Afghans. Rashid’s aim, on the other hand, will be to pick up a couple of in-form Pakistani batters so that the other spinners have the leeway to attack and keep Babar‘s boys in check.
Familiarity factor: Just as Pakistan are reaping the rewards of a T20 World Cup in UAE, which has been their adopted home for a decade, the Afghans, too, play a lot of their cricket in the desert venues. In a tournament like this where most teams are finding it difficult to cope with Pakistan’s familiarity factor, Afghanistan should find it easier. The spin-heavy attack of Afghanistan, too, should work well in Dubai, where the ball has a tendency to stop a bit. The challenge, though, will be bowling second, more so for the spinners once the dew sets in. Pakistan have showed in two games how good they are while chasing and the spinners will have to be on top of their games to make a match of it.
Dealing with Shaheen & Co.: While Afghanistan can match Pakistan on the spin front, it’s the pace attack of Pakistan that gives them the big edge. The variety of the attack led by left-arm pacer Shaheen Afridi can trouble any team and the Afghans are no exception. The top-order of Afghanistan looked good against Scotland but Shaheen, Hasan Ali and Haris Rauf will be a different kettle of fish.