While the on-field rivalry between Pakistan and Afghanistan is still in its infancy, crowd disturbances, edge-of-the-seat finishes, and scuffles between players have already lent it the kind of rhetoric that perhaps better describes events in a bullring than in a cricket stadium. The ICC 2023 World Cup match at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Monday is a good chance to see if the on-field action has retained a similar needle.
Afghanistan’s spin trio of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, and Mohammad Nabi can pose a challenge to Pakistan’s unstable middle order if it find its rhythm.
The way skipper Hashmatullah Shahidi deploys Rashid will also influence the result. In a match against India, Rashid came in when India was 125-0 in 14 overs, which seemed an odd decision. However, against England, he entered the game when the Three Lions were 82 for three off 16 overs, precisely where he excels.
Rashid’s pace is quick for a spinner, and on a slightly two-paced Chepauk surface, he will target the stumps and look for LBWs. While the Pakistani top-order batters have an affinity for the sweep, they should consider hitting down the ground against Rashid. This match will be played on the same pitch that was used for India’s match against Australia.
Against New Zealand, Afghanistan’s innings took a downturn when the middle order came in — the last seven wickets fell for just 42 runs. Afghanistan needs to shore up its sometimes rash, often lax middle-order.
Afghanistan’s coach, Jonathan Trott, had also expressed concerns about fielding as his team missed six chances in its loss to New Zealand. Unless it improves in this aspect, Pakistan could capitalise on its mistakes.
Meanwhile, there are headaches aplenty for Pakistan. Its pace attack tends to drift if Shaheen Afridi does not get early wickets. Babar Azam’s form and continuing struggles with spin don’t allay concerns either.
In this scenario, it will be intriguing to see whether the team with superior skills or the one with better control of emotions wins.