Cricket World Cup 2019: Pakistan bank on Babar Azam's sensational form in tricky clash against Afghanistan

Waseem Ahmed 17:07 28/06/2019
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Babar Azam.

Pakistan seemed down and out after the heavy defeat to India in the 2019 World Cup. The knives were out after the defeat to India with many experts questioning the team combination, Sarfraz Ahmed’s captaincy and the entire cricketing structure in the country.

But once an opening was provided by Sri Lanka’s shock win over favourites England, Pakistan were a different team. The indifferent Proteas were swatted away by 49 runs before before the men in green came up with their performance of the tournament to register a six-wicket win over against the most consistent side of of the World Cup – alongside India – in New Zealand.

The Kiwis were tied down on a raging turner in Birmingham and thus, Pakistan’s incredible turnaround – exactly like their 1992 World Cup winning campaign – continued. Next up for them is Afghanistan in Leeds on Saturday.

BABAR AND SOHAIL FACTOR

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JUNE 26: Haris Sohail of Pakistan plays a shot during the Group Stage match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between New Zealand and Pakistan at Edgbaston on June 26, 2019 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

Haris Sohail.

The two names common in Pakistan’s wins over the Proteas and Kiwis are Babar Azam and Haris Sohail.

Sohail’s late selection in place of the out of form Shoaib Malik was a belated but sensible move. The left-handed batsman has provided 360 degree batting ability and a calm head chiseled over a decade in domestic cricket.

Two fifties from Sohail formed the backbone of Pakistan’s imposing batting effort, especially against the Kiwis where left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner was turning the ball square from the rough.

Babar, on the other hand, has been in imperious form. With two fifties and an unbeaten ton against the Kiwis, the young middle order batsman has established himself as the best young batsman in the game.

Babar has become the second fastest to 3000 ODI runs and the rate at which he is going, the 24-year-old looks set to break many more.

AFGHAN CHALLENGE

The Afghanistan match is a potential banana peel for Pakistan. Captain Gulbadin Naib has already expressed his desire to at least ruin the campaigns of other teams now that they are out of the tournament. And Pakistan should be wary.

Afghanistan won the warm-up clash between the two teams at the start of the tournament and even in the Asia Cup in the UAE last year, Pakistan had to  fight tooth and nail to defeat Afghanistan.

The pitch at Leeds offered enough encouragement to spinners in a low-scoring match between Sri Lanka and England, which means the likes of Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman will be a serious threat, as they were on a slow pitch against India in Southampton.

LIKELY XIs

Pakistan: Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Haris Sohail, Sarfaraz Ahmed (c and wk), Imad Wasim, Wahab Riaz, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Afridi

Afghanistan: Gulbadin Naib (c), Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Asghar Afghan, Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shinwari, Ikram Alikhil (wk), Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Mujeeb Ur Rahman

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