Pakistan Emerges as Asia Cup’s Strongest Contender Despite Low-Key Build-Up


Ahead of their departure to Hambantota for a three-match series against Afghanistan in late August, Pakistan had only played eight ODIs in the entirety of 2023. Even for a team known for its unpredictability, Pakistan’s arrival in the cricketing scene was somewhat shrouded in mystery. All eight ODIs they had contested were against the same opponent, New Zealand, who fielded a depleted side for five of those matches, excluding those featuring in the IPL. In terms of preparation for the World Cup, Pakistan’s efforts were less than impressive, particularly when compared to India’s rigorous build-up.

Nevertheless, led by Captain Babar Azam and holding the No. 1 spot in ICC rankings, Pakistan is set to enter the World Cup as one of the favorites to reach the semifinals and beyond. If any doubts lingered, they are already issuing warnings in the Asia Cup, where they appear to be the team to beat. Despite their unassuming preparations, Pakistan, in stark contrast to India, boasts a settled core of players who continue to grow in strength—a significant factor setting them apart.

Timing the Peak

Pakistan’s bowling unit has always been formidable and capable of dismantling opponents in various conditions. However, their batting had been a vulnerability, albeit one that is now beginning to take shape, just in time for the World Cup. With a top-order trio of Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, and Babar Azam, Pakistan’s primary requirement was for the middle-order to provide stability. Mohammad Rizwan, Iftikhar Ahmed, and Agha Salman have begun to fulfill this crucial role.

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Bowling remains the talking point for Pakistan at the World Cup. Apart from possessing three outright fast bowlers who prefer attacking from the outset and offer variety, they have a leg-spinner with batting prowess and a left-arm spinner, complementing Iftikhar and Salman, both of whom can contribute handy off-breaks. If Rahul Dravid, India’s head coach, were to describe this Pakistan attack, he might use the four-letter word beginning with “S,” as he did during the previous Asia Cup.

The Golden Blueprint

This formula has become a common sight recently. If Shaheen Shah Afridi fails to make an impact with the new ball, Naseem Shah steps in. If both of them prove ineffective, Haris Rauf is prepared to rattle the opposition. Beyond these three, there is the versatile Faheem Ashraf, not as swift as the others but capable of seam movement reminiscent of Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood, inflicting damage here and there.

In Wednesday’s Super 4 match against Bangladesh, Pakistan’s attack was once again relentless as a depleted Bangladesh side struggled in conditions seemingly tailor-made for batting. Captain Babar Azam is making the most of his resourceful bowling unit. With the new ball, he has the luxury of choosing between left-arm and right-arm bowlers in Afridi and Shah, both of whom target the in-between length, leaving batsmen unsure whether to move forward or backward. To make matters worse, they can generate movement in both directions. Bangladesh’s innings got off to a shaky start, offering an early wicket to Shah, and from there, with the exception of Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim, the rest of the lineup failed to put up much of a fight.

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