As the Asia Cup unfolds, one team readies itself for its opening fixture, while the other faces the pressure of a must-win situation. With just six participating teams in this short tournament, Bangladesh finds itself on the brink of elimination, while Afghanistan is just getting started.
Amidst the buzz surrounding the India-Pakistan rivalry and the Naagin derby, Afghanistan and Bangladesh promise to provide an intriguing contest. However, the pressure squarely rests on Bangladesh, who displayed signs of rustiness in their opening game. Their batsmen, with the exception of Najmul Hossain Shanto, struggled, and the bowlers failed to maintain sustained pressure.
The action now shifts to Lahore, an unfamiliar territory for both sides. Bangladesh last played an ODI at the Gaddafi Stadium in 2008, with Mushfiqur Rahim being the sole survivor from that squad. For Afghanistan, this marks their first international game in Pakistan.
Afghanistan enters this contest on the heels of a 0-3 defeat to Pakistan, and their top order, comprising Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Ibrahim Zadran, and Rahmat Shah, holds the key. Bangladesh will look to exploit any vulnerabilities, especially given Rahmat’s recent dip in form.
In the middle order, Afghanistan relies on relatively inexperienced players like Riaz Hassan, Najibullah Zadran, and Karim Janat. However, their recent victory over Bangladesh in an ODI series adds confidence to their campaign.
Bangladesh must be cautious against the left-arm pace of Fazalhaq Farooqi, who made a significant impact in their previous encounter.
Form Guide: Afghanistan: LW (last five ODIs, most recent first) Bangladesh: LWLLW
In the spotlight are Ibrahim Zadran and Shakib Al Hasan. Ibrahim Zadran has made a stellar start to his ODI career, amassing runs with consistency. Shakib Al Hasan, a key figure for Bangladesh, will need to deliver with the bat and guide the team.
Team news: Bangladesh may consider resting Mustafizur Rahman, who has been nursing a knee niggle, and opt for Hasan Mahmud. They may also introduce Anamul Haque in place of one of the inexperienced openers.
Afghanistan may bring back Najibullah Zadran, who is returning from injury, and consider Rahmat for his experience.
Pitch and conditions: Clear skies are expected in Lahore, with temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius. No rain is forecasted. The Gaddafi Stadium has witnessed high-scoring games in recent times, with 300+ scores breached frequently.
Stats and trivia: Since the start of 2022, Bangladesh’s pacers have had a collective bowling average of 23.63 in the first ten overs, second only to Australia among Full Member teams. Mustafizur Rahman’s performance since January 2022 has been below par, with just 21 wickets in 22 ODIs, averaging 36.04. Afghanistan has played the fewest ODIs (27) among all Full Member nations since August 2019.
As the Asia Cup drama unfolds, Bangladesh and Afghanistan’s clash promises to be a pivotal encounter, with one team seeking to make its mark, and the other battling to stay alive in the competition.