Match Preview – Pakistan vs Nepal, Asia Cup 2023, 1st Match, Group A

Big picture – a massive occasion for Nepal

Nepal are making their Asia Cup debut. They are meeting Pakistan for the first time in any format. It’s a massive occasion for them, a day of celebration no matter how things pan out on the field.

Nepal’s very presence at this Asia Cup is validation of their rise as a cricketing force. They got here by winning the ten-team ACC Men’s Premier Cup in April-May, clinching the title ahead of teams such as UAE and Hong Kong, who have featured in past Asia Cups. Before that, they put together a run of 11 wins in 12 ODIs to rise improbably up the ODI World Cup League 2 table and seal a spot in the ODI World Cup qualifier.

Having only gained ODI status in 2018, Nepal are now ranked a tantalising 15th in the format, a sign of how close they are to achieving even bigger dreams given that the next ODI World Cup, in 2027, will feature 14 teams.

Pakistan, meanwhile, are playing what is likely to be one of just two home games in a tournament they are technically hosting. Such are the times we live in. Fans in Multan, then, would be well advised to brave the temperatures (the forecast is for a maximum of 38-degrees Celsius) and catch this rare glimpse of their heroes.

Form guide

Pakistan WWWLW (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)Nepal LWLLW

In the spotlight

After years of being overdependent on their top three, Pakistan are beginning to put together a promising ODI middle order, and a lot of the credit for this must go to Agha Salman, who has a 40-plus average and a 100-plus strike rate after his first 14 games. He has been in a rich vein of form over recent months – he followed an excellent home ODI series against New Zealand with aggressive Test knocks of 83 and 132* on the tour of Sri Lanka, and he comes into the Asia Cup on the back of a crucial unbeaten 38 to end an otherwise quiet series against Afghanistan on a positive note.

An average of 19.93 after 50 ODIs isn’t hugely impressive, but Dipendra Singh Airee comes into the Asia Cup with a fair amount of confidence behind him. The middle-order batter impressed at the World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe in July, scoring an unbeaten 79 to lead Nepal to a three-wicket win over UAE in the seventh-place playoff. He then had the opportunity to play alongside the likes of Andre Russell, Shakib Al Hasan and Chris Lynn at the Global T20 Canada, where he contributed a string of useful 20s to Montreal Tigers’ title-winning campaign.

Team news

Pakistan have a problem of plenty in the allrounder department, and may have to leave out Faheem Ashraf or Mohammad Nawaz – or both – if they want to fit in Mohammad Wasim, who took a four-wicket haul for Pakistan A against Nepal during the Emerging Cup in July.

Pakistan (probable): 1 Fakhar Zaman, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Babar Azam (capt), 4 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 5 Agha Salman, 6 Iftikhar Ahmed, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Faheem Ashraf/Mohammad Nawaz/Mohammad Wasim, 9 Shaheen Shah Afridi, 10 Naseem Shah, 11 Haris Rauf

Sompal Kami’s participation at the World Cup qualifier was cut short by a hand injury sustained during Nepal’s match against Zimbabwe. He’s set to make his ODI return and lead their pace attack alongside Karan KC.

Nepal (probable): 1 Kushal Bhurtel, 2 Aasif Sheikh (wk), 3 Bhim Sharki, 4 Rohit Paudel (capt), 5 Kushal Malla, 6 Dipendra Singh Airee, 7 Gulsan Jha, 8 Sompal Kami, 9 Karan KC, 10 Sandeep Lamichhane, 11 Lalit Rajbanshi

Pitch and conditions

Multan hosted all three ODIs during West Indies’ tour of Pakistan last year. All three matches produced 250-plus first-innings scores, with Pakistan chasing down 306 in the first ODI. The top-three wicket-takers in that series were Mohammad Nawaz, Shadab Khan and Akeal Hosein, and if conditions play similarly, spinners can expect to play a significant role again. The weather is expected to be hot and dry, with temperatures reaching the high 30s (Celsius).

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