Afghanistan gear up for ‘passionate’ rivalry in World Cup match against Pakistan

Afghanistan’s head coach Jonathan Trott said Sunday the team is looking forward to renewing a “passionate” rivalry with Pakistan in Monday’s World Cup match which should be “a great spectacle”.

There’s always good rivalry between the two sides and plenty of passion, so it should be good for people to watch, he said.

According to him, there’s no special strategy for Monday’s match against Pakistan, scheduled to take place at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai. “No special sort of training; similar training to what we always do, we always try to mix it up and keep it fresh.”

He said Sunday’s focus had been on fielding, “making sure our catches are taken against Pakistan”. He went on to acknowledge that the team “caught really well against England” but “didn’t catch too well against New Zealand”.

“We have got to raise our standards again,” he said.

Both sides are in desperate need of a win. Pakistan lost their last two games against India and Australia after a pair of opening wins against Netherlands and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan meanwhile pulled off a shock victory over defending champions England but have also slumped to three defeats – against New Zealand, Bangladesh and India.

Key players

Afghanistan – Rahmanullah Gurbaz

The Afghanistan opener is one of the rising stars of white-ball cricket and put all of his potential on display at the Cricket World Cup in a match-defining knock against England.

Gurbaz hit a blazing 80 runs from only 57 balls to set up the stirring triumph over the defending champions, and looked set to notch a memorable century until run out.

The 21-year-old has made a start in all four of his innings so far at the Cricket World Cup, starting with a classy 47 in Afghanistan’s opening match against Bangladesh.

But after missing out against New Zealand in their most recent match, Gurbaz appears to have unfinished business at this tournament which will leave Pakistan wary of his talents.

Pakistan – Shaheen Shah Afridi

Shaheen Afridi led the resistance against a rampant Australia to reveal how crucial he will be through the rest of the tournament if Pakistan hopes to progress to the semi-finals.

The 23-year-old overcame a relatively slow start to the Cricket World Cup, and reported illness on the eve of the clash with Australia, but stepped up to take 5/54 even with Pakistan on the ropes after many early blows.

Those figures pushed Afridi to nine scalps for the tournament to be among the leading wicket-takers even with some room left for improvement.

The left-arm quick can strike fear in batters with his express pace and will face a gripping battle with the Afghanistan openers that tend to have a huge say on their team’s hopes.

But it’s now roughly halfway through the World Cup tournament and both sides need to win. Defeat for Afghanistan would almost certainly knock them out, while a Pakistan loss leaves Babar Azam’s side with no further room for error.

However, Afghanistan still want the elusive ODI win against Pakistan – a win they have yet to secure. There have however been enough encouraging signs to suggest this could be an evenly poised game – especially after Afghanistan’s shock win over England.

For the team however, there are two clear areas where Afghanistan enjoy an advantage over their more decorated opponents: top-order firepower and world-class spin bowling.

Gurbaz alone has hit seven sixes in the powerplay in this World Cup so far, while Pakistan have managed none in the whole of 2023.

With Pakistan’s openers out of form, it will be an area where Afghanistan can demonstrate a clear point of difference.

On the bowling front, while Pakistan juggle their spinners and try to figure out a way to get the most out of Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz and Usama Mir, Afghanistan have no issues when it comes to spin. Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman are two of the most prized spinners in world cricket, while Mohammad Nabi has been effectively used to sap opposition momentum through the middle overs.

However, an excessive heat warning has been issued for Chennai on Monday. Conditions are expected to be particularly oppressive throughout the afternoon – something that could mean batting first for the side winning the toss.