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Political tensions add to Afghanistan-Pakistan rivalry

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After much confusion, anger and bewilderment about the scheduling of the Super Four stage of the Asia Cup, it comes as a mild relief simply to know which side plays on a particular day, and at what venue. Pakistan will take on Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi, while in the other game, India do battle with Bangladesh.

Pakistan have a fascinating time ahead in what's left of the Asia Cup, with arguably the only two sides they wouldn't regard as rivals already knocked out. There are political tensions with all of India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan that can spell testy affairs on the pitch. But there's little doubt the most flummoxing, contradictory relationship in world cricket is the one that exists between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This is what Facebook's "It's complicated" option was made for in the golden days of social media when cynicism about making intimate details of your life wasn't quite at the high it is now. Cynicism is also a trait that's pervaded dealings between these two nations, and eroded trust after a heart-warming early alliance that seemed to be the spirit of cricket handbook come to life.

The Pakistan Cricket Board took Afghanistan under its wing, eager to help its cricket improve, with several Afghan players training at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore. Pakistan was the first Full Member to play an ODI against Afghanistan, and there is little doubt Afghanistan cricket would have risen as rapidly as it has without the PCB's help in its early years.

But times, and politics, changed, and when Pakistan and Afghanistan grew apart diplomatically and a devastating bomb blast in Kabul last year officially heralded the severing of cricketing ties. Invariably - inevitably, perhaps - relations between the BCCI and Afghanistan are much warmer, with India hosting Afghanistan for their first Test match earlier this year. Pakistan, aggrieved their initial support doesn't quite get the same recognition in Afghanistan are unlikely to have taken kindly to the friendlier Indo-Afghan relationship.

You may wonder why cricket has barely been mentioned. It's because, in the big picture, Afghanistan and Pakistan's relationship has far less to do with cricket than it ideally should.

But on the pitch, Afghanistan have already exceeded expectations by qualifying for this stage at Sri Lanka's expense. They have done so in fine style, beating more fancied opponents and coming through as group winners. That's more than can be said of Pakistan, who put in perhaps the most disappointing ODI performance in years as India walloped them by eight wickets with 21 overs to spare. They need to come back strong, and it's not like Afghanistan are going to make it easy for them.

Form guide

Afghanistan WWWLW (last five matches, most recent first)
Pakistan LWWWW

In the spotlight

Barring injury, there is little doubt Rashid Khan will dominate batsman for years to come. He is the man most likely to go down as Afghanistan's first genuine superstar, a man already at the top of his field and yet he is only 20 years old. While he doesn't impart much flight on the ball, his uncanny accuracy, accompanied by a lethal googly, can outwit the most disciplined of opponents. His batting, too, has come on in leaps and bounds; he scored a whirlwind 57 off 32 balls against Bangladesh, turning a paltry 160 for 7 into the ultimately match-winning 255. He followed that up with figures of 9-013-2 in what was a Man-of-the-Match display. It's fair to say he won't be short of confidence when he takes on Pakistan.

India were tremendous against Pakistan in the first 10 overs, knocking over Pakistan's much-vaunted opening pair of Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq simply by cutting off their scoring areas. Afghanistan, while pushovers in no way, don't quite have the attack to execute that plan as perfectly as India did on Wednesday, and the openers will be itching to get back to their run scoring best. The top order's contribution becomes even more vital given how devoid of match practice the middle order has been lately. Afghanistan will not have missed how brutally it was exposed against India as Pakistan slumped from 85 for 2 to 121 for 7.

Team news

Afghanistan have been forced to play back-to-back games which might test their fitness, but they're unlikely to tinker with a winning combination.

Afghanistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Ihsanullah, 3 Rahmat Shah, 4, Hashmatullah Shahidi, 5 Asghar Afghan (capt), 6 Samiullah Shenwari, 7 Mohammad Nabi, 8 Gulbadin Naib, 9 Rashid Khan, 10 Aftab Alam, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rehman

Pakistan were toying with the idea of dropping Mohammad Amir for the game against India. Although he wasn't, his wicket-taking threat has been decreasing and he may finally find himself on the bench on Friday. More worryingly, Shadab Khan limped off midway through an over and is a serious doubt, which brings Pakistan's reserve spinner, Mohammad Nawaz, firmly into play.

Pakistan (probable): 1 Fakhar Zaman, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 6 Asif Ali 7 Shadab Khan/ Mohammad Nawaz, 8 Faheem Ashraf, 9 Junaid Khan, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Usman Khan

Pitch and conditions

Spin is likely to play a major part again and Afghanistan, who comfortably outgun Pakistan in this department - even if Shadab was fit - will look to strangle Pakistan the same way they did Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The heat means the winner of the toss is likely to bat first.

Stats and trivia

  • Rashid Khan is the only player to have reached 100 ODI wickets before his 20th birthday - which was the day his team was taking on Bangladesh in the group stage

  • Pakistan's loss against India was their first ODI defeat in the UAE in nearly three years, when they lost to England in November 2015. Since then, they had won nine matches in a row at their adopted home grounds, three against the West Indies, five last year against Sri Lanka and one against Hong Kong