T20 World Cup: Contrasting weapons of spin and pace

Afghanistan's mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman took five wickets against Scotland. — AP
Afghanistan's mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman took five wickets against Scotland. — AP

Bengaluru - Afghanistan go up against title contenders Pakistan in Dubai



By Sumit Chakraberty

Published: Fri 29 Oct 2021, 12:03 AM

Last updated: Fri 29 Oct 2021, 12:04 AM

A 130-run drubbing of Scotland in Sharjah has given Afghanistan a net run rate that’s unlikely to be matched by any other team in the group, unless there’s another one-sided contest of that magnitude. This makes Afghanistan a dangerous wild card in Group 2 of the T20 World Cup, in the event that two or three teams are tied for the second position. For Afghanistan to have a chance of being one of those tied teams, they have to pull off an upset or two against the major teams. The first opportunity to do so comes on Friday evening in Dubai against Pakistan. It’s a daunting prospect with Pakistan looking like title contenders along with England as of now, but T20 is a format in which an upset is always on the cards.

SPIN CARD

Although the bounce and swing on the Dubai ground in an evening game make pace bowlers the main threat, spinners have been enjoying success too. Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid picked up six wickets against the West Indies on this ground. And Pakistan leg-spinner Shadab Khan induced a mis-hit from Rishabh Pant with a googly, just when he looked like bringing India back into the game. Afghanistan’s leg-spinner Rashid Khan, one of the most successful bowlers in T20 franchise cricket, will likewise fancy the bounce and turn on this wicket. And if mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman can reproduce anything like the bowling performance that got him five wickets against Scotland, it could become interesting, provided Afghanistan get to bowl first, before dew appears.

PAK MOMENTUM

Pakistan will want to keep up the momentum they have gained in back-to-back victories over the two other major teams in the group. They return to Dubai — the scene of their 10-wicket humiliation of India — after squeezing out a win over New Zealand in a low-scoring game in Sharjah. So, we can expect a continuation of the winning combination with which Pakistan hit the ground running in this tournament. They will be just as ruthless with their western neighbours as they were with India.

BATTING FORM

The best part in Pakistan’s showing so far is that they haven’t relied only on the top three to produce the required runs. After being reduced to 87 for five on the tricky wicket in Sharjah against New Zealand’s experienced bowling attack, they were able to dig deep. The 48-run partnership between the experienced Shoaib Malik, who showed astuteness in delaying his attack until the left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner came on, and Asif Ali, who smashed 27 in 12 balls to close out the game, will give the team confidence in its batting depth. Still, they did reach a stage from where they could have lost the game, and would want Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Hafeez to come good in the middle order.

WEAK LINK

The one weak link in the Pakistan bowling is Hasan Ali, who does not have the height of Shaheen Shah Afridi or pace of Haris Rauf. He went for 11 an over against India and was wicketless against New Zealand. It would be tempting to try out 20-year-old Mohammad Wasim, who was in the Under-19 World Cup team last year and had an impressive run in the Pakistan Super League in the UAE recently.

CAPTAIN COOL

Babar Azam of Pakistan is fast acquiring a reputation of being Captain Cool. He was smiling in grudging admiration when Rishabh Pant peeled off two one-handed sixers. His counterpart in Friday’s game, the suave Mohammad Nabi, is no less of a cool character, earning him the nickname of El Presidente. But of course, Nabi doesn’t have anything like the pace bowling and batting resources that Azam can deploy. Nabi’s trump card will be the way he uses his two game-changer spinners.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru. Write to him at chakraberty@gmail.com


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