After ten straight ODI defeats, Pakistan will be keen to gather some upward momentum ahead of the 2019 Men's Cricket World Cup in England & Wales with a strong performance against dark horses, Afghanistan.
Pakistan v Afghanistan
Bristol County Ground, Bristol
2019 ICC Cricket World Cup Warm-up
Friday 24 May, 10:30 local time, 10:30 BST
The first warm-up match is set to be an intriguing one, as we get a close look at both sides on English soil in the lead up to the tournament-proper.
Pakistan come into the match having been thumped 4-0 in their recent ODI series against tournament favourites England, and while it might have been a useful bedding-in period which could help them acclimatise to the host nation's conditions, their bowling performances in particular were not up to par. Upon the conclusion of that series, Pakistan omitted three players from their final squad, with bowling all-rounder Faheem Ashraf and seamer Junaid Khan two of the casualties.
Pakistan will be hoping that recalls for out-of-sorts left-armer Mohammad Amir, who missed the final four England games with chicken-pox, and 33-year old all-rounder Wahab Riaz, who last played ODI cricket in June 2017, can catalyse something of a resurgence for Sarfaraz Ahmed's side, as they seek to break their duck which has inconveniently come at the foot of cricket's flagship tournament.
The Afghanistan batsmen will be looking to capitalise on any frailties in their opposition's bowling ranks. Mohammad Shahzad blasted an excellent 88-ball 101 in his side's 126-run win over Ireland on 21 May, while Rahmat Shah, the esteemed and stylish top-order stroke-player, will be keen to further his good form after recording a swift 62 in the same match. Recently promoted skipper Gulbadin Naib will come into the game in good spirit; he took 6/43 in Afghanistan's dominant victory.
They were humbled in the previous bout though, skittled for 138 in a woeful batting display in Belfast as Ireland prevailed comfortably by 78 runs. That being said, with seven wins from their last 10 games in the 50-over format, the lowest ranked team in this Men's Cricket World Cup should enter this game with plenty of confidence.
Babar Azam, who averages a lofty 51.67 in the format, will be the key component in Pakistan's batting line-up. The 24-year old has looked at ease in English conditions, breezing to two half-centuries and recording a century in the recent series. Equally, Pakistan will be desperate for opening batsman Imam ul-Haq to return to fitness after he sustained an elbow injury in the fifth ODI against England, and he was imperious throughout his four innings, notching 234 runs at an average of 117.
Looking to quell the threat of Pakistan's strong batting unit is the highly-coveted Afghan spin trident of Rashid Khan (MRF Tyres No.3 ranked ODI bowler and No.2 ranked all-rounder), 18-year old Mujeeb Ur Rahman and No.3 ranked all-rounder, Mohammad Nabi. Controlling the middle overs will be crucial in preventing Fakhar Zaman, Imam, Babar and co. from amassing a daunting total on what will likely be a hard, high-scoring track.
Mohammad Amir (Pakistan): While it seems to have been an age since Amir has exhibited anything near his astronomical potential, the prospect of a re-emergence from the talented swing bowler remains in the hopes of Pakistan fans and cricket lovers alike. As an 18-year old, he utilised English conditions masterfully as he shot to international prominence with some devastating performances, and it would be indicative of Pakistan's enigmatic tendencies if he were to arrive at a major tournament and flip his fortunes. Stamping down his place in the side with a good display here against Afghanistan could be the first steps of Amir's revitalisation.
Mohammad Shahzad (Afghanistan): He's a larger-than-life character and a gripping spectacle to observe, given his burly frame and excitable celebrations, but above all, Shahzad is a seriously destructive opening batsman and is not to be underestimated. Should he contain his innate desire to play too many extravagant shots, Shahzad is capable of taking apart and piling on huge scores against world class opposition, epitomised by his stunning century against India in the 2018 Asia Cup. Afghanistan's weakness is their inability to record formidable team scores, and Shahzad's efforts from the top of the order will be key to laying a foundation for his side to do just that.
The purple patch in England's weather cycle does not look likely to subside, as a warm, dry day in Bristol awaits. However some cloud cover is expected later in the afternoon. It is likely to be a splendid, hard batting track, but there could be some luck for the spinners as the pitch begins to wear.
Pakistan: Sarfaraz Ahmed (capt & wk), Asif Ali, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz.
Afghanistan: Gulbadin Naib (capt), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Noor Ali Zadran, Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Afghan, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shinwari, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Aftab Alam, Hamid Hassan, Mujeeb ur Rahman.
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