Pakistan Men’s Cricket Team at the 2023 Asian Games – Preview
Pakistan doesn’t have a great history in Men’s cricket at the Asian Games, having won only one medal, i.e., a silver medal after defeating Sri Lanka in a third-place match in 2010. In the 2014 edition, the Pakistan Cricket Board decided to send the women’s cricket team only to save funds as, unlike other sports, cricket isn’t an Olympic sport, and the PCB is not affiliated with the Pakistan Sports Board. Thus, PCB had to fund the teams and decided against sending a men’s team for the event.
So, a men’s cricket team from Pakistan will be taking part in the Asian Games for the first time in 13 years. The last squad that took part in the Asian Games had six players who represented Pakistan at the senior level, including Sharjeel Khan, Usman Qadir, and Aizaz Cheema.
The team is led by former U19 skipper Qasim Akram, and Omair Bin Yousuf will be his deputy. The duo will make their Pakistan debuts (the matches have T20I status). The fast bowling of this squad is quite experienced as well; all fast bowlers have represented Pakistan in the past, and they bowl at a good pace as well.
With Haider Ali, Rohail Nazir, Tahir Baig, Muhammad Akhlaq, and Omair Bin Yousuf in the squad, deciding who bats in the top order could be a bit of a headache for the team management. Haider Ali recently played a few good knocks in the English summer and looked in good touch.
Tahir Baig impressed many with his performances in the PSL after coming through the ranks of Lahore Qalandars’ PDP; he ended his PSL with a fifty in the final and then recently played in ZimAfro T10 and some local T20 tournaments as well. However, he only played one inning in the Zim Afro tournament, and with the wide range of options at the top of the order, this might be a similar trip for Tahir Baig.
Omair Bin Yousuf has usually been known as a red-ball specialist, but in the last year or so, he has developed his white-ball game, which he showcased by scoring fifties in the semi-finals of the last National T20 Cup and the Emerging Asia Cup.
Rohail Nazir and Muhammad Akhlaq are the two wicket-keeping options in the squad, and both are suited to bat in the top order. However, both have also played as floaters in the middle order. Muhammad Akhlaq is more of a hitter and is often used at the top to take advantage of field restrictions, while Rohail Nazir is considered an anchoring option.
With the all-round abilities of the skipper and Arafat Minhas, the team has the advantage of fielding a flexible lineup.
Arafat Minhas’ rise has been impressive in the last couple of years. From performing in U19 domestic tournaments to winning player of the tournament in PJL, Arafat was later also crucial for Pakistan Under-19 and against Bangladesh. Recently, Pakistan Shaheens took part in the Top End T20 series in Australia, where Arafat was Pakistan’s best bowler on the tour. He has also been part of the Multan Sultans squad in the last PSL. This tour will be an opportunity for him to add another feather in his cap. A left-hand middle-order batsman and left-arm spinner, he is also a great athlete and fielder.
Qasim Akram’s potential remains untapped due to limited opportunities in the PSL. In 2021, with Karachi Kings, he played just one game, scoring 10 (3). The following year, he captained Pakistan in the Under-19 World Cup, then played only four PSL matches. Despite being a promising talent and U-19 captain, he has played only 8 PSL games in the last three editions. Hopefully, he’ll receive more game time in the upcoming PSL season. He is coming off a bright start to the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, where he began the season with a century on the last day to take his team to a draw.
Haider Ali will also take a break from the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy for the Asian Games. Earlier, he was at Derbyshire and played for the county across all three formats. He played a few good knocks in red-ball cricket for Derbyshire, including a 146 against Yorkshire, while his tally of 335 runs in the Vitality Blast was the highest among Pakistani batters participating in the T20 competition.
Haider came onto the scene after a record-breaking PSL season in 2020 and had a knack for taking spinners to the cleaners. However, perhaps too many experiments with his positions and roles deteriorated his performance after that year. But the underlying ability is very much there, and he had an impressive run in the Vitality Blast after a lean start, demonstrating his strong potential.
Asif Ali and Khushdil Shah are two of the finest power hitters in Pakistan and have won games for Pakistan. They will be expected to play an important role as two of the most experienced players in the squad. However, both have been dropped from the T20I team for some time, and their recent performances have generally not been impressive.
Asif Ali recently played in the Lanka Premier League and ZimAfro T10. His performances in Zimbabwe were brilliant, and he was instrumental in his team, Durban Qalandars, winning the tournament. However, his performance on the low-scoring tracks of the Lanka Premier League was not impressive. He then played First Class cricket for the first time since December 2020 this season. That worked out well, as he was a key part of Faisalabad’s win in the opening round of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.
Khushdil Shah is also normally put in the same bracket and portrayed as a player similar to Asif Ali. However, he is somewhat of a mixture of two of Pakistan’s famous “power hitters,” Iftikhar Ahmed and Asif Ali. Khushdil has the game to play short and fiery cameos like Asif Ali. At the same time, in List A cricket, he has shown he can give the opponents a taste of IftiMania – perhaps KhushiMania. He enters the Asian Games after recently captaining FATA in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. He hasn’t played any T20 cricket since the PSL. However, he played 50-over cricket in the Dhaka Premier Cricket League, and even though his team won the tournament, his performances were below par.
Mubasir Khan has been added to the squad instead of the injured Mohammad Hasnain, who is undergoing rehab in England. Mubasir started his career as a primarily red-ball batting all-rounder, scoring 164 on First-Class debut. However, he recently hit centuries in List A cricket off 60-70-odd balls in Zimbabwe and the Pakistan Cup. His T20 experience is limited due to inconsistent chances in the PSL and the National T20 Cup. The Asian Games can be an important platform for him to show the PSL selectors his power-hitting game and white-ball skills.
The renowned pace factory of Pakistan is out of action nowadays, be it Naseem Shah, Ihsanullah, Mohammad Hasnain, or even Fatima Sana.
Shahnawaz Dahani, despite playing just five T20 games this year with a high average of 36.8, has prior experience with Pakistan Shaheens in tours of Zimbabwe and the Emerging Asia Cup. In List A cricket, his performances were ordinary, with a notable 5-wicket haul in the Emerging Asia Cup but no wickets in two other games. However, against Zimbabwe Select, he secured 13 wickets in six innings, trailing only Aamir Jamal, who had 16 wickets. After missing out on most of the PSL, he’ll be eager to get back into form for T20 cricket.
Aamir Jamal has seen quite a rise from defending nine runs against a set Moeen Ali on his T20I debut to winning games for Peshawar Zalmi. On the Zimbabwe tour, he impressed with his bowling skills. He has been playing in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy for Lahore Whites and has also done well in that format. Aamir’s Aamer’s pace can trouble lineups when his rhythm is good, but that good rhythm can be tough to find, as his inconsistent displays in the LPL showed. His high economy rates, particularly in the death overs, result from wayward lines and lengths. While his defensive skills are limited, he can be hard to face if the ball starts reversing.
Arshad Iqbal is the other pace option in the squad. If you ask many on social media, you’ll find that he should be nowhere near this squad and instead in India with the World Cup squad, but that didn’t transpire. Arshad has looked in good rhythm in recent times, while his fitness appears to be improving after an injury kept him out of action for a while last year. Most notably, he has recently shown good skills with the new ball, including some spells in the PSL. However, he is also not at his best bowling at the death, and with none of the three pacers death specialists as such, the final few overs could be a problem for Pakistan in the Asian Games.
Sufyan Muqeem’s journey started in the Kashmir Premier League, although he got limited opportunities; the left-arm wrist spinner played four games across both seasons of the KPL. He then rose to prominence when he was picked for Peshawar Zalmi and played five games for them in the PSL. Recently, he made his List A debut in the Emerging Asia Cup and was Pakistan’s best bowler, picking up 8 wickets in just 3 games. Although young and quite raw, his skill set is impressive, and he’ll also have a bit of the novelty factor, with left-arm wrist spinners still not being very common.
Another Peshawar Zalmi spinner is part of this squad – Usman Qadir. Usman has 29 T20I wickets to his name in 23 matches at an average of less than 20 but has struggled recently. He represented Mississauga Panthers in GT20 Canada, where he took only 3 wickets at an average of over 30. Similarly, in the PSL, he managed just 3 wickets at an average of 36, playing only 3 games due to competition from other spinners. His inconsistency with line and length has hindered his progress, a common challenge for leg-spinners. Usman suggested that his friendship with Babar Azam may have raised expectations, potentially leading to his exclusion from T20I squads. This presents an opportunity for him to regain his form and prove his worth to the selectors.
My Playing XI
- Tahir Baig
- Muhammad Akhlaq (WK)
- Omair Bin Yousuf
- Haider Ali
- Qasim Akram ©
- Asif Ali/Khushdil Shah
- Arafat Minhas
- Aamir Jamal
- Sufyan Muqeem
- Arshad Iqbal
- Shahnawaz Dahani