Asia Cup: Pakistan and their love affair with pace
In Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf, the men in green have a fast bowling attack that is arguably the best in the world at the moment.
COLOMBO: To say Pakistan possess one of the world's best pace-bowling attacks is not an overstatement. In all of three matches they have played so far at the 2023 Asia Cup, the two-time champions had bowled out their opponents with the trio of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf sharing 23 wickets among themselves out of a total of 30. Rauf was the leading wicket-taker with nine wickets in three innings while Naseem and Shaheen were second and third, respectively with seven wickets each before the Sri Lanka-Bangladesh match on Saturday.
They were at their best against arch-rivals India on September 2 at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium. The pacers snared all ten Indian wickets to set up an Asia Cup record before the match got washed out due to rain. This was the first time that pacers had taken all the wickets of an innings in an Asia Cup ODI match. Given their recent form, the Men in Green will be a force to reckon with when the ODI World Cup begins in India on October 5. But before the marquee event, the pace battery also makes Pakistan a favourite to lift their third continental title.
Pakistan skipper Babar Azam felt proud when he was talked about the quality pacers his team has during a pre-match conference here at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on Saturday. "I feel proud to see the quality of pacers we have. They are one of the best in the world. The way we dominate throughout, you see it's the pacers who help you win matches in big tournaments. Their secret to success is that they bowl in partnership and their self-belief. If someone is not clicking, another will do that. They back each other. And this is true in every department whether it's batting or bowling," Babar said.
Pakistan pacers were all over India before rain abandoned the Group A match. India opener Shubman Gill, who was cleaned up by Rauf, was also all praise for Pakistan pacers. "We don’t play against Pakistan as often as we do against some other teams. We all know that their bowling attack is quite good and when you don’t play against such attacks often it makes a bit of difference in main tournaments," Gill said.
With the two rivals set to meet again in Colombo on Sunday, the Pakistan captain feels his team holds an edge as it has been playing cricket continuously for the past two and a half months. "Given the continuous cricket we are playing both in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, you can say we hold an edge. We have been playing here in Sri Lanka for the past two-and-a-half months. We played Tests, we played series against Afghanistan and then the Lanka Premier League, so it can be said we have an advantage."
Rohit Sharma and Co slumped to 66/4 inside 15 overs in their first match but Pakistan let them off the hook in the middle overs as wicketkeeper-batter Ishan Kishan along with all-rounder Hardik Pandya added 138 runs for the fifth wicket to help India reach 266. Babar also admitted that the bowlers need to do well in the middle overs to capitalise on the start provided by the pacers.
"Yes we get a good start and the plan always is to bowl well in middle overs. That's why we came up with different plans in the previous match where fast bowlers bowled. The effort is to have an effective combination. We need wickets in the middle overs but we are not getting them. But you can see we are finishing well. Our pacers are doing well at the end."