While India is Asia’s obvious contender for the World Cup title, there are four other nations from the continent which could pose problems for highly-ranked teams.
Among them, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are former World Cup winners. Bangladesh and Afghanistan are relatively new to the scene. Bangladesh has improved with every outing at the quadrennial event and has produced some big upsets already. Afghanistan is the newest of the International Cricket Council’s full members and had to secure its spot at the World Cup through qualifying, beating some considerably more established teams.
Here’s a look at Asia’s “other” prospects:
The 1992 World Cup champions have had a scratchy run-up to the World Cup, losing 5-0 to Australia in a “home” series in the United Arab Emirates and then being routed 4-0 in England.
The nine consecutive defeats forced national selectors to make three changes to the originally announced 15-man squad, with seamer Junaid Khan, promising opening batsman Abid Ali and allrounder Faheem Ashraf all dropped after struggling in English conditions.
Experienced pacemen Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz and hard-hitting batsman Asif Ali were the late inclusions.
Ali’s selection has its merit after he posted two half-centuries against England, but the two left-arm fast bowlers Riaz and Amir were recalled more on the basis of their experience than recent performances.
Riaz hasn’t played an ODI since October 2017; Amir has taken just five wickets in the 14 ODIs he has played since Pakistan won the 2017 Champions Trophy in England.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was the national team captain back in ’92 when he led his “Cornered Tigers” to victory in Melbourne, Australia. The format of this year’s World Cup is the same, where every team plays each other before the top four advance to the semifinals.
Pakistan’s unpredictable tag is somewhat of a positive for captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, who likes to go to the World Cup as underdogs.
Ahmed led Pakistan the Champions Trophy title two years ago when his lineup was ranked No. 8 but peaked to beat archrival India in the final.
The batting unit appears fairly settled with Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam and Haris Sohail forming a strong top order. But bowling and, more particularly fielding, could let down Pakistan in crunch games.
Pakistan reached the final the last time the World Cup was contested in England, losing to Australia in the 1999 title decider.
Off-field issues over the last two years have seen the 1996 World Cup champions change captains 10 times across cricket’s three formats.
Several players and Sri Lanka Cricket officials, including World Cup winner Sanath Jayasuriya, have been suspended for not co-operating with International Cricket Council anti-corruption investigators.
The problems have had an impact on the team’s performance, with Sri Lanka losing the first eight ODIs it played this year and falling far adrift of the team which reached the 2011 World Cup final.
The Sri Lankans tried plenty of combinations before settling on Dimuth Karunaratne to lead the island nation to the World Cup despite playing his last ODI four years ago.
Karunaratne has a modest record in limited-overs cricket, having played 17 ODIs and none since the 2015 World Cup, where the Sri Lankans exited in a quarterfinal loss to South Africa.
The form of veterans Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga will be more crucial to Sri Lanka’s hopes of qualifying for the semifinals.
Bangladesh got a boost in the lead up to the World Cup by clinching a tri-series tournament in Ireland that included a stunning victory over the West Indies when Mosaddek Hossain struck five sixes in his 20-ball half century.
The Bangladesh performances have long revolved around seasoned players such as captain Mashrafe Murtaza, Shakib Al-Hasan, Musfiqur Rahim and Tamim Iqbal. But recently the likes of Soumya Sarkar, who top-scored in the tri-series with three consecutive half centuries, have been sharing the batting burden and that’s a positive for the team.
Mashrafe is a calm captain, while Shakib is a brilliant allrounder who has the capacity to peak in big matches. Bangladesh doesn’t have any express pacemen and have also left out Taskin Ahmed back home.
Left-arm seamer Mustafizur Rehman’s bowling lacks some penetration, which leaves Shakib and the spinners to stem the flow of runs.
They may not have the depth to reach the semifinals, but certainly do have the capacity to surprise one or two teams at the World Cup. Bangladesh’s first win at a World Cup was against Pakistan in ’99, and it has produced upset wins over India and South Africa in 2007 and England in 2011 and ’15.
Afghanistan qualified for the World Cup ahead of more established teams Zimbabwe, Ireland and Scotland.
And while the Afghans may not win matches against stronger lineups, they gave a glimpse of their potential during last year’s Asia Cup where results included a tie with India, a win over Sri Lanka and a last-over loss to Pakistan.
The change of captaincy for the World Cup didn’t go well with senior players, with ace spinners Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi criticising the Afghanistan Cricket Board on social media.
The key to Afghanistan’s progression lies with the strength of its spin department, which features Rashid, Nabi and Mujeebur Rehman.
While Nabi and Mujeeb can bowl with the new ball, Rashid has the ability to take wickets in middle overs and tie down batsmen with his googlies and sharp legspinners.
Veteran Mohammad Shahzad and 21-year-old Hazratullah Zazai are the two explosive opening batsmen in their ranks.
Afghanistan’s main concern will be who anchors the innings in the middle to ensure big totals.(Dawn)