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Asia Cup team preview: Pakistan

Asia Cup 2018, feature

A formidable team playing in familiar conditions – Pakistan are one of the big contenders to win the Asia Cup 2018.

Overview

There are compelling reasons to believe that Pakistan can go all the way this time, not least because of the fact that they won the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 by beating India by 180 runs at Edgbaston. Their squad for the Asia Cup wears a very similar look to that side.  

This time around, India, quite likely Pakistan's biggest threat in the tournament, will be without their captain and No.1-ranked ODI batsman Virat Kohli, and that is something that should further increase Pakistan's chances.

But it's not the weaknesses of other teams or past performances that make Pakistan strong contenders. It is their own potential. The team wears a young and vibrant look. Up the order, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq bring a brand of aggressive cricket that keeps bowlers' guards up.

Bowling has rarely been a weakness for Pakistan, and it's no different this time. Hasan Ali and Mohammad Amir are capable of swinging the ball at pace, and possess a good set of variations that could come in handy on the slower wickets of the United Arab Emirates.

Their middle order has appeared a tad shaky in recent times. Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz Ahmed will have to take the onus and show how it's done to the younger lot. Pakistan's spinners – the likes of Shadab Khan, Malik and Haris Sohail – double up as more than handy batsmen, which gives the side increased depth.

Moreover, the team is bound to be better acclimatised to the conditions in the United Arab Emirates than any other team, considering that the Pakistan Cricket Board has hosted almost all their international matches since 2009 in that country.

Players to watch out for

The opening duo of Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq struck a fine combination in Pakistan's most recent ODI assignment – their dominance against hapless Zimbabwe bowlers allowed the middle-order very little time in the middle. Zaman also recently surpassed Kohli as the fastest to 1000 runs in the fifty-over format. How these two perform against sides like India and Sri Lanka, who are ranked higher on the MRF Tyres ICC Team Rankings, will be crucial.

All-rounder Faheem Ashraf has shown tremendous promise in his little time on the international arena and will have the perfect stage to make an indelible mark. By the same yardstick, 18-year-old paceman Shaheen Afridi will also be one to watch out for.

History in the Asia Cup

Pakistan have won the title twice, their last win coming in the 2012 edition, when they won a thrilling final match against hosts Bangladesh. The only other time they won was in 2000.

Schedule

16 September: v Hong Kong

19 September: v India

Squad: Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Fakhar Zaman, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Amir, Shadab Khan, Imam ul Haq, Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Asif Ali, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Nawaz, Fahim Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan, Usman Shinwari, Shaheen Afridi

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