Pakistan all set to tackle Rashid-Mujeeb threat
LEEDS, England: Pakistan are likely to experience their warmest and perhaps sunniest day here at Headingley on Saturday since arriving in England earlier this summer, writes Khalid Hussain.
They are also expecting to experience the most spin-friendly conditions on a dry pitch where Pakistan will face bottom-placed Afghanistan in yet another must-win World Cup match.
Whatever grass the wicket had was shaved on Friday by the ground staff. The temperature is expected to go up to around 29 degrees centigrade on Saturday which means that both teams could expect ‘Asia-like’ playing conditions in Saturday’s match.
With momentum on their side, Pakistan will begin the match as hot favourites. After a poor start, the Pakistanis have given their World Cup campaign a boost with impressive wins against South Africa and New Zealand. But such is their placement on the points table that Pakistan cannot afford to keep move their eyes off the ball in their remaining two group games.
The Afghans, meanwhile, are out of the race for semi-final qualification after failing to win any of their seven World Cup games. Afghanistan haven’t really lived up to expectations but Pakistan aren’t taking anything for granted.
They know that Afghanistan’s spin attack could pose problems in the match. Since arriving in Leeds from Birmingham, the Pakistani players have been watching videos of Afghanistan’s recent matches and the one man grabbing their attention is the young mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
The 18-year-old off-spinner has created quite a stir with 3-39 against Bangladesh in Southampton. It was Mujeeb’s carrom ball that dismissed in-form Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan which caused a lot of excitement.
Mujeeb, who bowls off and leg spin with variations of both, outfoxed the seasoned Shakib with a superb delivery that pitched and went straight on. Shakib, who was expecting it to be an off-spinner, was trapped leg before.
Pakistan acknowledged on Friday that they are taking the spin threat seriously. “They have quality spinners and we have seen a lot of videos to try and work out their variations,” commented Haris Sohail, Pakistan’s in-form batsman.
Mujeeb is not the only threat for Pakistan. Though he is yet to really fire in the World Cup, the highly-rated leggie Rashid Khan would be itching to finally make his presence felt.
In fact Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib warned on Friday that Pakistan should be wary of Rashid. “Pakistan are a strong team and played spin very well in the last two games,” Gulbadin told reporters.
“But Rashid is a different spinner, he’s very different to other leg-spinners, it’s very difficult to pick him. “In this World Cup, I don’t think he’s been at his best but he’s given everything in terms of effort. On his day, it’s very difficult for any team to deal with him.
“Rashid is trying to give 100 per cent and trying his best, this is a World Cup, everyone just wants to give their best performances. “If it is a Rashid day, it’s very difficult for anyone not just Pakistan.”