Surging Pakistan look to sustain momentum against Afghanistan
Pakistan need to win to give themselves the best chance of upstaging England and clinching a semi-final berth
Afghanistan came with a promise to upset at least two teams in this World Cup but they have spent their campaign dogged by one issue after another, on and off the field, and are winless in seven games. They are rooted to the bottom of the table, with the high point of their campaign the game against India, where they came within two blows of a historic victory. However, they slipped back into old ways in the game against Bangladesh, in which they fell short by 62 runs. They will now play for pride against Pakistan, a neighbouring country with which the rivalry is more intense than just a cricketing one.
The Pakistan camp, in the meantime, has suddenly found its best form, buoyed after inflicting a first defeat upon New Zealand. Their World Cup dreams are well and truly alive, and comparisons to the 1992 World Cup campaign have now reached fever pitch. All of that will fade, however, if Pakistan fail to beat Afghanistan and Bangladesh, two sides who did not play the 1992 version of this competition. There are still lots of ifs and buts but for now the proposition is simple - Pakistan needs to win their remaining two games to have a realistic chance of a place in the semi-finals.
Afghanistan on the other hand are living a dream in playing the World Cup a second time - a decade earlier, that would have been hardly within the realms of probability. Their bowling has given them a belief and confidence enough to pose a threat to any batting line-up, but the batting hasn't quite lived up to that standard. Even when they did get close to inflicting an upset or two, the absence of a finishing touch was notable. However, they should remember they beat Pakistan in a warm-up game in Bristol before the start of the tournament, and coach Phil Simmons will be assuring them they can repeat the feat in the World Cup proper.
Afghanistan LLLLL (Last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Pakistan have already offloaded Shoaib Malik and brought in Haris Sohail. The move proved vital in making the middle order work and gave much needed stability to the batting line-up. The spotlight remains on another senior hand: with Mohammad Hafeez stuttering and unable to capitalise on his decent start, he will feel the pressure. He fell to part-time spinners in three of Pakistan's last four games, playing poor shots, requiring his team-mates to bail the side out.
Rashid Khan has been off-colour, despite his high billing. The legspinner has averaged 78.5 with four wickets in six bowling innings so far. In his ODI career, he averages under 18 and he was meant to be a key campaigner for Afghanistan this tournament. But ever since the assault he suffered against England, conceding more runs than any bowler ever has at a World Cup, he appears to have lost confidence. At Leeds, the conditions seem unfavourable for spinners, as they average 45.7 with an economy of 5.4 in the last five completed ODIs at the venue. Can Rashid overcome?
Pakistan wouldn't want to break up their winning combination, so an unchanged team is expected.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Mohammad Hafeez, 5 Haris Sohail, 6 Sarfaraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Shadab Khan, 9 Mohammad Amir, 10 Wahab Riaz, 11 Shaheen Afridi
Afghanistan have tried almost every possible combination, with 16 players used. One change here and there in the batting or bowling hasn't made a significant difference; they dropped Aftab Alam to recall Dawat Zardan in the last game against Bangladesh, but the bowler conceded 64 in nine overs for one wicket. Samiullah Shinwari in place of Hazratullah Zazai made a difference, as the batsman scored a useful 49 at No. 6 to offer much needed resistance. They are most likely to take on Pakistan unchanged from their previous outing in Southampton.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Gulbadin Naib (capt), 2 Rahmat Shah, 3 Hashmatullah Shahidi, 4 Asghar Afghan, 5 Samiullah Shinwari, 6 Mohammad Nabi, 7 Najibullah Zadran, 8 Ikram Alikhil (wk), 9 Rashid Khan, 10 Dawlat Zadran, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman
- Najibullah Zadran averaged 51.5 runs per dismissal and struck his runs at 101 per 100 balls since 2018. It wasn't, therefore, a surprise to see him score heavily in the first two innings (51 against Australia and 43 against Sri Lanka) despite batting at No. 7. Him coming up higher in the order could offer stability but he seemingly fell prey to mismanagement, being pushing down in the order to play at Nos. 7 and 8 when the game is all but over. He was also dropped from one game. He is more than a slogger, averaging 57.7 in overs 11-40. His strike rate since 2018 against pace is 98.8 and against spinners, its 101. Time for a promotion?
- Mohammad Hafeez's demotion from No. 4 to 6 may create a difference if Haris Sohail is promoted to No. 4 to bat alongside Babar Azam. Besides, Hafeez is effective as an improvisor and, since 2017, averages 64.67 with a strike rate of 137.5 between overs 41-50. Pakistan need an assured presence in the death overs to push their total beyond par to complement their bowlers, so the switch could be a win-win.
Pitch and conditions
It's expected to be the hottest day of the year, with the temperature exceeding 30 C. The pitch is expected to be slow, but recent games here have had fast bowlers achieve success, which should play into Pakistan's hands.
Stats and trivia
- Pakistan and Afghanistan have played each other three times, with Afghanistan yet to win
- Pakistan's win percentage at Leeds is 44.4%, having won four and lost five matches
- Mohammad Hafeez needs 63 runs for 500 runs in World Cups
- Samiullah Shinwari needs five wickets for 50 wickets in ODIs
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent