Afghanistan eye win as Asia Cup Bandwagon moves to Sharjah

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Afghanistan players during a practice session. Courtsey: Twitter

The Afghanistan-Bangladesh match will mark the nostalgic return of the Asia Cup to its place of origin, which will rekindle many fond memories and heartbreaks alike.

The stage is all set for the cricket spectacle, albeit with a new genre of warriors fighting it out on the same old battlefield in a new format as the bandwagon moves to Sharjah on Tuesday after two matches in Dubai.

Many of the players playing in the current edition might not have even been born when it was held for the first time in Sharjah in 1984.

Fast forward to 2022, a resilient Afghanistan will look to extend their winning streak with a victory over Bangladesh and book a spot in the Super 4.

Afghanistan are clear favourites after their thumping victory against Sri Lanka in the opening match. Afghanistan defeated Lanka by nine wickets with almost half the overs to spare.

The victory catapulted them to the top of their group and another will propel them into Super 4. A total of six teams have been divided into two groups of three each. From each group, the top two teams will advance to the Super 4.

After getting off to a winning start, Afghanistan are in a more comfortable position and the pressure will be on Bangladesh, who are coming into the series on the back of two-series loss.

Afghanistan are no more underdogs and have become a force to reckon with of late.

Their mercurial rise is a testimony to the mettle they are made of. They are known for playing a fearless brand of cricket.

What makes them more dangerous is their familiarity with the conditions in the UAE in general and particularly at Sharjah Stadium, which is their home ground.

Exploiting their knowledge of the conditions and the pitches, the pace duo of Fazalhaq Farooqi and Naveen-ul-Haq ripped through the Lankan batting line-up.

There was an abject surrender by the Lankan Lions as they could only manage to post a paltry total of 105, which was never defendable even by the best bowling attack in the world on a batting turf like Dubai.

But Sharjah is different. With shorter boundaries and a batting-friendly wicket, Afghanistan pacers may find it difficult to repeat the feat because the pitch helps the spinners as the match transpires.

But Afghanistan have a world-class spin attack as well, featuring Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman. In their World Cup match against Scotland, Mujeeb had wreaked havoc as he picked up five wickets in the space of 16 deliveries to set up a huge victory against much fancied Scots.

Rashid has given many match-winning performances for Afghanistan and is one of the most sought-after cricketers in the franchise cricket around the world.

“We are prepared well. We played a good game against Sri Lanka, and that was the day before yesterday. It is gone. Every game is a new game.

“We don’t think about the past, what happened or what will happen in the future. We focus on one game at a time. Why people underestimate us is beyond our control. What we can do is play good cricket and prove ourselves,” said Rashid in a pre-match conference.

“We have not played much international cricket, especially in the longer format. We want to play more as that gives exposure to the young players.

“But by playing in franchise cricket, we get to learn a lot and bring that experience to our national side,” added Rashid.

In batting, Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, and Najibullah Zadran can tear apart any bowling attack in the world. It is Zazai’s favourite hunting ground as he had hit sixes in an over during an Afghanistan Premier League match on the same ground.

On the other hand, Bangladesh are more experienced, but they have seen a dip in their form recently as they came into the tournament on the back of series losses against Zimbabwe and West Indies.

However, they have been bolstered by the return of their captain, Shakib Al Hasan, who is also called the poster boy of Bangladesh cricket.

Shakib is one of the most prolific all-rounders in the world and has scored more than 7000 runs in T20 cricket with more than 300 scalps to his name.

He will be joined by wicket-keeper batsman Mushfiqur Rahim, who has 17 years of experience. He has been an integral part of the Bangladesh team since he made his debut against England in 2005 at the tender age of 16.

But the injury blow to Litton Das and Nurul Hasan will weaken them a little. Pace sensation Mustafizur Rahman and Mohammad Saifuddin will spearhead the pace attack.

Recently appointed vice-captain Afif Hossain gives more options for the all-rounder slot along with Mahedi Hasan. Their batting will revolve around Shakib, Mahmudullah, and Mushfiqur.

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