Markhor presents a very detailed preview of the upcoming Asia Cup and explains how Pakistan can overcome hype surrounding the favourites tag and actually win their third Asia Cup title.
By Markhor (28 August, 2023)
Pakistan’s trophy cabinet contains an array of honours from an ODI World Cup, T20 World Cup, Champions Trophy and a #1 Test ranking. Yet the Asia Cup has proven curiously elusive with only two wins since the tournament’s inception in 1984 with the last coming in 2012. It’s surprising given the strength of Pakistan teams over the years. An opportunity to add a third Asia Cup last year in the T20 format was spurned after losing the final to underdogs Sri Lanka.
Handling the favourites tag
In 2023 Pakistan are again Asia Cup favourites – a phrase that sits uneasily with a nation reared on cliches about cornered tigers. It’s a tag Pakistan wilted under at the 2018 Asia Cup; the last edition played in an ODI format. That triggered a disastrous spell of results that culminated in a group stage exit at the 2019 World Cup where Pakistan peaked too late.
However, there are key differences between 2018 and 2023. Pakistan’s form was highly erratic in the buildup. After the 2017 Champions Trophy win, they beat Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe 5-0 but were thrashed 5-0 by New Zealand in between. This time, Pakistan are ranked at #1 in ODIs, have the best W/L ratio of any team since the last World Cup and recently whitewashed Afghanistan 3-0 in tricky Sri Lankan conditions.
Critics will question the strength of opposition and the relative lack of ODIs compared to other nations. However, Pakistan are hardly the only beneficiaries of so-called “B team bashing” in bilateral ODIs and winning habits are far likelier than anything else to engender tournament success.
Top dogs in pace, but not spin
For a long time, Pakistan’s “pace bowling strength” was a lazy cliché trotted out by uninformed pundits based on past glories. Now, Pakistan’s pace attack is ranked at the top of the table over the last four years in bowling average and strike rate.
However, Pakistan’s spin attack is arguably amongst the weakest in Asia. From the top 15 averaging spinners with a minimum of 20 wickets since the 2019 World Cup – only one is Pakistani. Meanwhile three Sri Lankans, three Afghans, three Bangladeshis, and two Indians make the list. Does Pakistan possess enough bite in the middle-overs ?
|Matches||Wickets||Bowling Avg||Economy Rate|
|Adam Zampa (AUS)||31||66||20.69||4.99|
|Shakib Al Hasan (BAN)||29||45||21.84||4.14|
|Maheesh Theekshana (SL)||22||36||22.19||4.34|
|Taijul Islam (BAN)||14||25||22.28||4.45|
|Rashid Khan (AFG)||24||39||23.02||4.19|
|Mohammad Nawaz (PAK)||15||23||26.39||4.73|
|Wanindu Hasaranga (SL)||39||58||28.13||4.84|
|Yuzvendra Chahal (IND)||23||37||28.89||5.71|
|Mehidy Hasan Miraz (BAN)||42||53||29.20||4.86|
|Mohammad Nabi (AFG)||24||26||30.26||4.34|
|Mujeeb Ur Rahman (AFG)||27||33||30.39||4.34|
|Tabraiz Shamsi (SAF)||24||38||30.57||5.55|
|Kuldeep Yadav (IND)||33||48||31.56||5.51|
|Adil Rashid (ENG)||26||40||33.67||5.72|
|Dhananjaya de Silva (SL)||36||21||38.14||4.79|
(Table features only players from teams participating at the 2023 World Cup)
The middle order conundrum
The biggest headache for Pakistan going into the Asia Cup and World Cup is their middle-order. It’s not for a lack of options. Saud Shakeel, Agha Salman, Iftikhar Ahmed, Abdullah Shafique and Tayyab Tahir are all capable players. However, there’ll likely be space for only two of these and nobody has a “slam-dunk” case.
|Saud Shakeel||Most technically correct; List A average of 44; stellar SL Test series||Limited powerhitting ability if targeting > 300 or RRR > 8-9|
|Agha Salman||Good ODI record; success in SL Tests||Disappointed in first two ODIs vs Afghanistan|
|Iftikhar Ahmed||Averages 56 at SR 106 in 2023||Weakness against wristspin|
|Tayyab Tahir||Big hitter with List A SR of 90||Poor vs AFG in T20 series|
|Abdullah Shafique||Excellent SL Test series||Dismal white-ball record so far|
Asia Cup; a glorified friendly ?
One may argue this is overthinking for a tournament designed to finetune combinations for the World Cup. But with Pakistan co-hosting the event, and three defeats in major tournament semi-finals and finals in the last two years, Pakistan must prove they have the mettle to get over the line.