Afghanistan, with their fabulous net run rate, will replace Pakistan at the top of Group 2 with a win here
The rich tapestry of historical connection that tangles Pakistan and Afghanistan is impossible to do justice to in a game preview. As the sub-head suggests, there really is a far more significant big picture to any Afghanistan-Pakistan contest, especially at a World Cup. Pakistan’s assistance to Afghanistan in the early stages of their development played its part in helping an unlikely cricketing destination rise to Full Member in double-quick time, however Afghanistan-Pakistan relations have gone south since.
It is the one thing that has remained consistently stable in the country in the past two decades. Despite domestic troubles, their men’s cricket team has found a way to ensure its progress isn’t stunted. New talent keeps coming forth to the extent that Afghanistan’s presence at major ICC events, like this one, is almost beginning to be taken for granted.
A clash against Pakistan at this time, though, arguably has as deep and complex a subtext as an India-Pakistan game (of course without the on-field history), but for all that has divided these two nations, they stand side-by-side in one aspect this tournament. Both are unbeaten and both are in the top two of Group 2. Pakistan crushed India, then took down New Zealand while Afghanistan have routed Scotland with a massive net run-rate that might end up being crucial later on.
A win here for either side would be a colossal step towards the final four. Pakistan’s victory would effectively put them there, with clashes against Namibia and Scotland upcoming. An Afghanistan triumph would see them leapfrog Pakistan, and with that huge net run-rate lead they’ve sprung out to, possibly only need a win against Namibia to have one foot in their first ICC World Cup knockout round. But while both sides have a point to prove, and two to gain, the bragging rights, though, will be as much a driving factor.
Afghanistan: WWWWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Afghanistan are expected to keep the same XI.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 3 Rahmanullah Gurbaz, 4 Najibullah Zadran, 5 Mohammad Nabi (capt), 6 Asghar Afghan 7, Gulbadin Naib, 8 Karim Jannat, 9 Rashid Khan, 10 Naveen-ul-Haq, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman
If Imad Wasim recovers from the blow to the knee he sustained while batting against New Zealand, Pakistan should be unchanged too.
Pakistan: (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 3 Fakhar Zaman, 4 Mohammad Hafeez, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Hasan Ali, 10 Haris Rauf, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Stats and trivia
“This is a request to all the fans… I hope they remain cool and calm and just focus on enjoying the game. This game is all about enjoyment and bringing nations together and people together.”
Rashid Khan does not want a repeat of the unsavoury crowd scenes that followed the conclusion of the Afghanistan-Pakistan contest at the 2019 ODI World Cup.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000