In the space of two weeks in November 2017 in the Under 19 Asia Cup, Afghanistan beat Pakistan twice, but were also beaten by Sri Lanka, who in turn succumbed to Pakistan. All three will again face off in Group D of the ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup and with Ireland – never to be discounted – completing the four, their pool is set to be one of the most competitive in the tournament. This early clash, taking place at Cobham Oval in Whangerei and kicking off at 10.30am on Saturday 13 January, could prove pivotal in the final analysis.
Afghanistan come into this competition in red-hot form. In November they won the Under 19 Asia Cup, thumping forthcoming opponents Pakistan by 185 runs in the final. They have players with ODI four-fors and first-class triple centuries in their ranks. They have been rightly picked out by many of the other teams as one of the favourites for the tournament.
But Pakistan are no slouches either. Though they were thumped in that Under 19 Asia Cup final, they still played well enough to make it there in the first place – another thrashing by Afghanistan notwithstanding – hammering UAE and inching past Bangladesh and fellow Group D opponents Sri Lanka.
Both teams won their warm-up games, Afghanistan in a close game against Bangladesh, and Pakistan in a hammering of Namibia, and despite the recent one-sided history, this is shaping up to be a close, high-quality game.
Players to watch
Mujeeb Zadran (Afg)
In two games against Pakistan in the Under 19 Asia Cup, 16-year-old off-spinner Mujeeb Zadran took a combined 11/36 across both matches, securing the title for his country, and an ODI debut against Ireland at Sharjah a fortnight later, in which he again shone, taking 4/24. The teenager is clearly precocious, but plying his trade outside of Asia for the first time will present a different challenge. It will be intriguing to see how he handles it.
Shaheen Afridi (Pak)
It must be the name. Unforgettably, 22 years ago Shahid Afridi broke the record for the fastest ODI ton in his debut innings. Now Shaheen Afridi has imitated him in his own way, snaring 8/39 on first class debut, the best such figures by a Pakistani bowler. Comparing himself to Wasim Akram, and relishing the prospect of bowling on helpful New Zealand wickets, the young Afridi’s in-swing could make him difficult to handle.
Head to head
The two clashes in the Under 19 Asia Cup may have gone the way of the Afghans, but before that Pakistan had inflicted two thumping victories of their own, by 109 runs in their first-ever clash in 2012, and by six wickets, and with almost 20 overs remaining at the start of 2016, leaving the overall record level between the sides.
Under 19 World Cup history
Afghanistan’s stark rise, from being also-rans to one of the favourites, is illustrated by the fact that all their ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup appearances have come this decade. Their best performance until now came in 2014, when they shocked Australia in the group stages to qualify for the quarter-finals, eventually finishing seventh
Pakistan are the third-most successful team in ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup history, having taken home the title twice, in 2004 and 2006, behind only India and Australia. They have made the final on a further three occasions, including at the first-ever tournament in 1988, with a team including future legends Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed.
As with most of the country, there has been some rain around in the last few days, but that is set to clear for the start of the tournament. Some clouds will linger, and there may be a shower or two in the morning, but the weather should still allow the game to be played to a finish.
Pakistan: Hasan Khan (c), Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Ali Khan, Ammad Alam, Zaid Alam, Ali Zaryab, Arshad Iqbal, Muhammad Mohsin Khan, Muhammad Musa, Saad Khan, Rohail Nazir (wk), Munir Riaz, Suleman Shafqat, Imran Shah, Mohammad Taha
Afghanistan: Naveen-ul-Haq (c), Qais Ahmad, Azmatullah Omarzai, Ikram Ali Khil (wk), Rahmanullah, Mohammad Ibrahim, Zahir Khan, Darwish Rasooli, Baheer Shah, Tariq Stanikzai, Nisar Wahdat, Wafadar, Waqarullah Ishaq, Mujeeb Zadran, Yousuf Zazai