Asia Cup 2018 was played in September in the United Arab Emirates among the 5 ICC full members - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. Hong Kong, the associate that won the 2018 Asia Cup qualifier, joined as the sixth team. Abu Dhabi and Dubai cricket grounds were the venues for all the matches.
The tournament consisted of two groups of 3 teams. The top two teams from each group then proceeded to the Super Four section of the competition where they played each other to decide the top two finalists. India won the cup while Pakistan lost to Bangladesh in a virtual semi-final and got crashed out of the tournament in the Super Four stage.
Pakistan have been a decent ODI outfit in the recent past. Since April last year, they have defeated West Indies and Zimbabwe away from home and Sri Lanka in the UAE in bilateral ODI series. They are the current holders of Champions Trophy that they won in June last year beating India in the finals.
In the meantime, Fakhar Zaman became the fastest to 1000 runs and became the first Pakistani player to score a double century in ODIs. He along with Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, and Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed makes up for a decent batting line-up if not a great one. Bowling has always been Pakistan’s strong point and they were looking to continue their recent success, albeit against weaker sides, to go all the way to the third title in the Asia Cup.
Pakistan started the campaign strongly against the associate Hong Kong winning by 8 wickets with more than 25 overs to spare. Their toughest battle was the next one. The contest that everyone was looking forward to was against India.
It’s never just a game when these two nations play each other. There’s so much at stake that it can be overwhelming. Pakistan looked no less overwhelmed. With India bringing back their main bowlers for this crucial contest, Pakistan just could not take off. Trying to hit their way out of trouble the openers perished early. Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik tried to put together a stand that did not last long. Pakistan kept losing the wickets regularly to give India a paltry 163 to win. India got there with 8 wickets and more than 20 overs to spare.
In the Super Four stage, Afghanistan pushed Pakistan in what many thought would be an easy win for Pakistan. Chasing 258, Pakistan top order made a decent but slow start reaching around 150-mark by the 35th over. However, a chasing masterclass by Shoaib Malik saw them through in a tight finish with just 3 deliveries to spare.
India then dismantled Pakistan with another clinical finish - winning by 9 wickets. A low on confidence Pakistan then had to fight Bangladesh in a virtual semi-final. Pakistan must have believed when they reduced Bangladesh to 12 for 3 courtesy some fine bowling by Junaid Khan and Shaheen Afridi. But Mushfiqur along with Mohammad Mithun rescued them to a fighting score of 239.
In the chase, Pakistan slumped to 18 for 3. Unlike Mushfiqur, Imam-ul-Haq fighting the lone battle, did not find a partner to shepherd Pakistan to safety. Pakistan eventually slumped to a 37 loss on the way out of Asia Cup.
Owing to a lackluster performance, Pakistan dropped Mohammad Amir for two crucial games. The replacement Shaheen Afridi has been more than impressive. He created chances on docile wickets. He would have had more wickets had his teammates hold onto the chances he created.
Shoaib Malik has been Pakistan’s batting backbone in this series. Unlike Mushfiqur who found some support in Mithun in crunch situations, Shoaib had none. Imam-ul-Haq did well against Bangladesh but that proved too little too late. Fakhar Zaman’s failure hurt them the most as he was the in-form batsman coming into the series.
Looking at the World Cup in 2019 Pakistan would look to solidify their batting which is not without talent. However, they need application and enough quality matches against top teams to gain the confidence. In last 2 years, barring a series with Australia in January 2017 and the champion’s trophy, they have not played any of England, India, or South Africa.
Pakistan have always been a good bowling side. And since the World Cup is in England these bowlers can do wonders in cloudy seaming conditions there. On their day Pakistan can surprise any opposition. But similarly, they tend to surprise themselves as well and not in a good way. In the upcoming World Cup Pakistan would surely want to avoid that.
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