Less than four days remain for the Asia Cup to get underway in the UAE and the six participating teams are all set to battle it out for the crown of the continent’s best.
With the tournament opener fast approaching, we take a closer look at the Pakistan squad who are among the favourites for the crown.
The men in green have been placed in Group A of the tournament along with arch-rivals India and qualifier Hong Kong.
COACH – MICKEY ARTHUR
The South African has a reputation of being a hard taskmaster and he has very much lived up to his billing ever since taking the reins of the Pakistan team in 2016. Within a span of two years, Arthur has completely transformed the side, especially in limited-overs cricket. His tenure has seen them rise to the top of the T20 rankings along with capturing the ICC Champions Trophy in England last year.
CAPTAIN – SARFRAZ AHMED
The wicketkeeper-batsman has grown into the role ever since being handed the T20 captaincy in 2016. Turning Pakistan into T20 world beaters, Sarfraz and Arthur have completely changed the approach of the team with their insistence on youth. The same upturn has followed in the ODI setup too after Sarfraz was appointed skipper in the format last year. He showed his captaincy credentials by leading Pakistan to a fairytale win in the Champions Trophy in what was his first major series as ODI skipper.
STAR MAN – FAKHAR ZAMAN
There is probably no bigger in-form batsman in limited-overs cricket at the moment than Pakistan’s Fakhar Zaman. A late bloomer, the left-handed opener has gone from strength to strength ever since his rollicking displays in the Champions Trophy last year. In the team’s recent ODI series in Zimbabwe, Fakhar finished as the highest run-scorer by a considerable margin while becoming the quickest batsman to the 1000-run mark in ODIs. In the process, he also became the first Pakistan batsman to register a double ton in the 50-over format and he is primed to have another strong showing in the UAE.
ONE TO WATCH – SHAHEEN SHAH AFRIDI
The 18-year-old pacer has already been hailed as the next big thing in Pakistan cricket and is the latest product to emerge from the country’s famed pace-bowling conveyor belt. After an excellent showing in Pakistan’s run to the semi-final of the ICC U19 World Cup in New Zealand earlier this year, Afridi has followed it up with a strong showing in the Pakistan Super League (PSL). That has seen him capped three times already at the T20I level and he showed he is ready for the international stage with a three-wicket against Australia recently.
STRENGTHS – BOWLING
Although there is quality in every department for Pakistan, none of them are as strong as their bowling. With Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali leading the pace attack and Shadab Khan providing the threat with his leg-spin, the bowling attack has all bases covered. It has been the major reason for Pakistan’s rise to the top of the T20 standings and the strength in depths available to Sarfraz and Pakistan are unrivalled by any other team in the competition.
It is in the batting department that Pakistan will feel they are at the weakest. Although the likes of Fakhar, Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik give the batting a strong look on paper and they were on fire in the series against Zimbabwe, they are yet to be tested thoroughly against a strong opposition in a high-stake clash in recent times.
It is hard to look beyond Pakistan and India as favourites for the Asia Cup title given their ODI form. Sarfraz and his men should have no trouble in advancing to the Super Four and even the final. In the case of a potential final between the two arch-rivals, it is hard to pick a winner yet given how past form and records go out of the window when the two teams meet.
Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Shan Masood, Sarfraz Ahmed(c & wk), Shoaib Malik, Haris Sohail, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan, Usman Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Asif Ali, Mohammad Amir
GROUP STAGE MATCH 1
September 16: Pakistan v Hong Kong
Venue: Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai.
Time: 14:00 GST
GROUP STAGE MATCH 2
September 19: India v Pakistan
Venue: Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai
Time: 14:00 GST
Anderson capped a match of high-profile milestones by overtaking Australia great Glenn McGrath when he took the final wicket of the fifth Specsavers Test to bowl India out for 345 and deliver a 118-run and 4-1 series victory.
England‘s all-time leading wicket-taker is up to fourth on the global list, alone as a seamer on 564 career victims – with only three great spinners still above him.
His achievement followed Cook’s fairytale sign-off with a century in his last Test innings the previous day – and as Anderson recalled clean-bowling India tailender Mohammed Shami on the final evening at The Oval, his fellow national record-holder was uppermost in his thoughts.
“He is my best mate, and it’s been brilliant,” the 36-year-old told Sky Sports Cricket, before his voice began to crack at the post-match presentation.
“I’m happy that Cooky was on the field to see that wicket.”
Anderson was in danger of finishing his summer merely level with McGrath, as KL Rahul (149) and Rishabh Pant (114) shared a sixth-wicket stand of 204 to keep India in with a chance of a world-record chase.
But England captain Joe Root persisted with him in a spell that was into its 14th over either side of tea by the time he struck – although only latterly with the second new ball.
Anderson added: “I just got into a really good rhythm … and thankfully Joe let me take the new ball, eventually.
“It gave me half-a-chance to get that wicket!”
Root admitted he did not fancy his prospects of suggesting someone else bowl instead from the Vauxhall End.
“I think it would have been ‘good luck …’, trying to get the ball from him,” said the England captain.
“Especially once that new ball came out, he had that bit between his teeth.
“He didn’t look tired, he looked very determined – and when he’s in that mood, you want to just keep him going as long as possible.”
Root hopes to do that into the future too.
He added: “What Jimmy has achieved, and what he’s capable of achieving still, is astounding really.
“For him to be in the same league as McGrath, and now chasing the big spinners, is phenomenal.
“I think the most exciting thing is he’s bowling at his best. And I can see that carrying forward for a long time still.
“I hope there’s going to be a number of series in the future where he is leading the attack and terrorising batters.”
As for Cook and Anderson’s twin achievements, Root added: “I said it was written in the stars at the start of the week maybe – and for it to turn out how it has is fairytale stuff, isn’t it?
“For Alastair to go out like that, and Jimmy to finish the game off in real style was so fitting for those two guys – who are really close mates.
“They’re going to miss playing with each other.
“When you saw Alastair’s hundred, you could see the guys on the balcony what it meant to them.”
Root had the best view of all, as Cook’s third-wicket partner as he too made a second-innings century.
“You saw his kids on the screen clapping, and he nearly started tearing up,” Root said.
“To be out there and see that up and close, I will savour that forever.”
Root’s opposite number Virat Kohli paid tribute to Anderson’s efforts this summer and throughout his career.
“It’s been fun … very competitive, but in the right way,” said the India captain.
“As a cricketer you want to be pushed and tested, and guys like him test you all the time.
“He has been very relentless with his skills and he now stands at the top of the fast bowlers’ leaderboard, and he deserves it totally.”
Needing seven wickets for victory on the final day, the hosts were frustrated for a large time in front of a packed Oval crown before a 118-run victory was achieved in the final hour of the day’s play.
With an action packed Tuesday bringing a fitting end to a hard-fought series between the two sides, we take a look at the key talking points from the final day.
KL RAHUL FINALLY COMES TO THE PARTY
It had been a series filled with frustrations and disappointments for KL Rahul who arrived at England on the back of a stupendous IPL campaign. It was meant to be his chance to stake a permanent claim to the opening slot but it seemed to be heading for a disappointing end after poor displays in the first four Tests.
The signs that he was slowly finding his touch were there to see in the first innings at the Oval where Rahul racked up a quick-fire 37. It was when India were reduced to 2-3 in their chase of 464 in the final innings that Rahul truly burst into life.
The right-hander finally showed the form that had grabbed eyeballs in the IPL with a display filled with some clean and effortless hitting. Taking the attack to the England bowlers, Rahul largely dealt in boundaries as he switched on his ODI batting-mode and racked up a total of 21 of them on his way to a fifth Test ton. He perished just one run shy of the 150-mark but for a brief while, his partnership with Rishabh Pant had raised the prospect of a miraculous India victory.
RISHABH PANT SHOWS HIS PROMISE WITH BELLIGERENT TON
If Rahul had sent a timely reminder of the fact that he can cut it in Test cricket, then Rishabh Pant signalled his readiness to become India’s long-term wicketkeeping option. The youngster had quickly faded away after a promising start to his Test career at Trent Bridge but on Sunday, he showed why he can be such a dangerous batsman in the format with a belligerent ton filled exemplified by brute power and fearless brand of cricket.
He took Rahul’s cue in taking the attack to the hosts with some fierce cuts and pulls and showed no fear in taking the aerial route too. Bringing up his maiden Test ton with a towering six off Adil Rashid, the youngster’s chancy innings at one point looked like he would carry India to a famous victory. However, he ultimately fell on 114 after attempting another slog off Rashid but his 204-run stand with Rahul had showed that the 20-year-old has plenty of fight in his belly.
What was ever more remarkable about his century was the fact that it was the first by an Indian wicket-keeper in South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia.
ANDERSON GOES PAST MCGRATH TO CLINCH ENGLAND WIN
Throughout the series, the prize wicket of Virat Kohli had evaded England’s spearhead James Anderson. When Pant and Rahul were going great on Tuesday, it even looked like the veteran seamer might not inch past Glenn McGrath’s tally of 563 Test wickets having equalled it on Monday.
That wait was exacerbated further on the final day with the landmark wicket proving elusive to Anderson for most of the day while the likes of Rashid and Sam Curran picked away at India’s tailenders.
With India nine down in the final session, the moment was slipping out of Anderson’s grasp until he finally got one to land in the perfect area to flatten Mohammed Shami’s middle-stump. Just like Alastair Cook had got the perfect sendoff, Anderson befittingly became the all-time leading wicket-taker among pacers with the final delivery of the series. It was just reward for a man who also finished as the highest wicket-taker in the series with 24 scalps to his name.