Mohammad Nabi’s team cannot afford to lose on Wednesday. If it does, it will have to rely on other results going its way to have a chance of making the final. And Pakistan will be all but through to the summit clash on Sunday.
Batting in focus
For Pakistan, captain Babar Azam’s troubles at the top have been balanced out by Mohammad Rizwan, who comes into this match on the back of two consecutive fifties. Rizwan opens his innings in a conservative fashion before breaking free after the 10th over - a template he has implemented successfully in wins against Hong Kong and India. Pakistan’s middle order has been propped up by the hard-hitting Mohammad Nawaz. Given that Afghanistan is likely to unleash leggie Rashid Khan on Pakistan in the middle overs, left-handed Nawaz could be promoted again. Power-hitter Khushdil Shah packs a punch at the death.
On the other hand, Afghanistan will hope for a better finish from its batting unit. Rahmanullah Gurbaz’s 84 off 45 balls had put Afghanistan on course for 200 at one stage, but Sri Lanka restricted it to a lower total by picking wickets in a cluster. The middle-to-lower order needs to show more spine.
Spinners hold key
Both teams have accomplished sets of spinners, with variety aplenty. However, it could come down to how the leg-spinners fare. Shadab Khan has six wickets in three matches at an excellent economy rate of 5.43. In comparison, Rashid has four wickets at a higher economy rate of 6.08. Against Sri Lanka, Rashid went for 39 runs in his four overs and picked just one wicket. His four overs and the stage of the innings he bowls in could be decisive.
The surface in Sharjah is likely to have a glossy sheen and dry spots that could aid the spinners. So far, there hasn’t been any dew, so the toss should not be a deciding factor, unlike the last T20 World Cup here in the UAE.
Rizwan underwent an MRI scan on his right knee soon after Pakistan beat India by five wickets in Dubai. Rizwan felt fine after the game, and the scan was a precautionary measure. Meanwhile, fast bowler Shahnawaz Dahani, who missed the game against India with a suspected side strain, has shown significant improvement and the medical team is continually monitoring him.
If Rizwan is fit and available, expect Pakistan, searching for a hat-trick of wins, to stick with the same XI. Afghanistan, save any injury concerns, is also unlikely to make changes.