Pakistan v Afghnaistan
Friday, 15:00 BST
Live on Sky Sports Cricket
Near-perfect so far from Pakistan
Two games, two wins. Not only that but they've beaten the pre-tournament favorites in India and in New Zealand, the other real threat in the Group. No disrespect to Afghanistan.
They've bowled beautifully upfront with Shaheen Shah Afridi picking up the man-of-the-match award in the India game and Haris Rauf in the New Zealand one.
The spinners have done their bit, too. All of Shahad Khan, Imad Wasim and Mohammad Hafeez have been economical and put pressure on opposition batsmen either in the Powerplay overs or in those all-important middle-overs when batsmen are looking to accelerate.
Up top with the bat Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam have batted sensibly yet positively, mostly punishing the bad balls and rotating the strike on the good ones.
And against New Zealand, they had a safety valve in the form of Asif Ali, who smashed 27 off 12 when they needed some lofty blows.
Having said all that, let's see how they get on when the toss goes against them and they have to bat first.
In terms of players, the only concern is fast bowler Hasan Ali, who hasn't got going. But he should keep his place, at least for the time being.
Likely XI: Rizwan, Azam, Zaman, Hafeez, Malik, Asif Ali, Khan, Wasim, Hasan Ali, Rauf, Afridi.
Afghans on course to ruffle some feathers
What should we read into Afghanistan's resounding win over Scotland?
On the one hand, Scotland have shown by losing to Namibia that they're probably considerably out of their depth here. If they couldn't deal with Namibia's spinners, then what chance did they have the match before against Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman? Not much.
But give credit where it's due. They were extremely positive with the bat, hitting 11 sixes on their way to posting the biggest score of the tournament so far (190). And they were excellent with the ball. It wasn't just the two already mentioned; everyone else was on the money, as well.
What that win did was give them a superb net run rate in addition to the points. Sure, India and New Zealand will have their chances to improve their own (net run rate) when they play Scotland and to a lesser extent, Namibia. But right now, Mohammad Nabi's men are in a strong position.
I'm not sure they're a 36.035/1 shot from a high of 150.0149/1 to go all the way, but they could yet ruffle a few feathers.
Likely XI: Zazai, Shahzad, Gurbuz, Zadran, Nabi, Afghan, Naib, Janat, Khan, Ul-Haq, Ur Rahman.
What's a good score in Dubai?
An awful batting performance saw the West Indies post just 55 against England, India appeared to be short with 155 against Pakistan and the Windies did the same with just 143 against South Africa.
Conclusions? Well, a par score is hard to call because of how poorly the Windies batted twice, while India left at least 20 runs out there themselves. But 170 would certainly be what you need to aim for because chasing is clearly the way to go. All three games were won by the chaser.
Pakistan will probably want to chase and win rather than getting practice at batting first for a future encounter. With his side's strength being spin, Nabi may wish to bat first and strangle the opposition with his tweakers, the blueprint for that win over the Scots.
But he'll probably make the call (if it comes to that) depending on whether he thinks there will be much dew around in the second innings.
Afghan trade could be on the cards
Pakistan are 1.351/3. Fair enough.
What's the best way of playing this? A trade for Afghanistan from 3.7511/4 into about 2.89/5 could be on if they bat first and Zazai and Shahzad get going, because they're not the sort to die wondering.
The problem with that is that Shaheen Shah Afridi and to a lesser extent Haris Rauf aren't the sort to let you get going very often.
But the same could be said if Pakistan bat first and lose one of their two brilliant openers within the first few overs. The market knows how vital Azam and Rizwan are and will react accordingly.
With Ur Rahman so effective in the first couple of overs, it's not out of the question.
What's the best way of playing this? A trade of Afghanistan from 3.7511/4 into about 2.89/5 could be on if they bat first and Zazai and Shahzad get going, because they're not the sort to die wondering.
Pakistan bowlers serious MOM candidates
Here are the players who won the man of the match award in games played at Dubai so far this WC in the Super 12 stage, bowling figures in brackets: Moeen Ali (2-17 off 4), Anrich Nortje (1-14 off 4), Shaheen Shah Afridi (31-3 off 4).
So, three bowlers have won the award in Dubai and two of them are fast bowlers. If Afghanistan cause a major upset, good on them, but the smart money is on Pakistan winning so the MOM will most likely come from their side.
The dice are loaded in favour of bowlers because it's a low-scoring ground.
As stated before, Afridi and Rauf picked up the award in their first two games and the sensible move is to split stakes between the pair here.
Apart from anything else, they're the only ones guaranteed to bowl four overs from among the bowlers. Afridi is 9/1 and Rauf 12/1.
Ul Haq the pick
Rashid Khan (5/4) and Mujeeb Ur Rahman (3/1) are all the rage in the Afghanistan top bowler market after taking four and five wickets respectively against Scotland. Of the two I'd certainly prefer Rahman at the prices.
But I much prefer Naveen Ul-Haq to either of them at 9/2. Four reasons.
Khan's T20I strike rate is 11.8, Ur Rahman's 15.2 and Ul Haq's 12.8; not much in it.
Secondly, we've seen already this is better suited to pace bowlers.
Thirdly, Ul Haq bowls at the death when Pakistan (if batting first) may go in search of quick runs at the end.
Fourth reason: price. Obviously. If there's not much to choose between them, would you rather be on a 5/4 shot or a 9/2 one? Yeah, me too.
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