SHARJAH: It is going to be do-or-die for Pakistan when they take on minnows Hong Kong for the first time in the shortest format in their second and final Asia Cup T20 group stage fixture here at the iconic Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Friday.
Winning the match will take Pakistan to the Super 4 stage, which will feature the top two sides from each group competing on a single league basis.
Having lost to arch-rivals India narrowly in their opener, Pakistan captain Babar Azam and their management staff would be vary of being too complacent in a game which could have allowed them to rest their main players, had the result on Sunday been the other way round.
The match against India saw pacer Naseem Shah suffer with cramps that may be credited to the hot and humid conditions in Dubai. Fast bowler Haris Rauf too didn’t look completely fit.
Though there were no injuries reported following the match, it has to be seen if Pakistan try to protect the currently available pacemen, especially after losing spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Wasim Jr. before their Asia Cup campaign got underway.
Naseem and Haris also took part in Pakistan’s practice session late on Wednesday night. Right-armer Mohammad Hasnain, who returned to the national side after being cleared for his bowling action, is also an option the Pakistan think-tank can use if one of the first-choice fast bowlers is rested.
In the net practice session, Babar reportedly observed batter Haider Ali’s power-hitting. The 21-year-old right hander is believed to be in contention for a start against Hong Kong with Pakistan’s middle-order failing to impress against India.
All-rounder Iftikhar Ahmed was the only notable performer in the middle of the line-up, scoring 28 off 22. The likes of Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz and Khushdil Shah also failed to do well before tailenders Haris and Shahnawaz Dahani took Pakistan to a respectable total with their cameos.
Haider, being a specialist batsman unlike the all-round quartet, may give Pakistan the stability they require if openers Babar or Mohammad Rizwan leave the crease early.
Fakhar Zaman, who walked out after his dismissal against India went unnoticed by the opponents and the umpire, will also be expected to regain form.
The explosive left-hander believed Pakistan should try not to repeat the mistakes they made in the first match.
“It was a tight game against India, the morale is high in the camp and all our players are confident of doing better in the upcoming game,” Fakhar was said in a Pakistan Cricket Board news release.
“T20 is a short format which provides an equal opportunity for both teams to show-case their strengths.
“To aim for the Super 4 we have to ensure we minimise our errors and put up a good show.”
Fakhar, who has played 66 Twenty20 Internationals, was aware of what Hong Kong brought to the table. The side, after impressing in the Asia Cup qualifiers, showed their quality with the bat against India on Wednesday despite losing the game by 40 runs.
“Hong Kong has played good cricket in the qualifiers but we will try to stick to our plans,” said Fakhar.
The Mardan-born batsman acknowledged the weather in the United Arab Emirates posed a challenge to the players’ fitness but said the squad was acting accordingly.
“The weather is hot here in the UAE but we are trying to keep ourselves hydrated,” he said.
“We’ll be playing against some competitive teams in Super 4 and for that we need to be in perfect shape.”
Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2022