Pakistan is set to kick off its Asia Cup campaign against Nepal today, amidst the scorching heat of Multan. This marks a significant return of multi-team international cricket to Pakistan after a hiatus of nearly 15 years.
The journey for Pakistan cricket has been arduous ever since the unfortunate terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore back in March 2009. The aftermath of the attack led to Pakistan losing not only the hosting rights for the Champions Trophy but also its share of World Cup matches in 2011.
In the aftermath of the attack, due to security concerns, the International Cricket Council (ICC) and its member nations hesitated to visit Pakistan. As a result, Pakistan went without hosting any international games against top-tier teams for almost eight years.
The upcoming Asia Cup holds immense significance for Pakistan, as it marks a return to hosting international matches. Furthermore, Pakistan has been awarded the opportunity to host the 2025 Champions Trophy as well.
Recently ascending to the top spot in the ODI rankings following a clean sweep of the ODI series against Afghanistan in Sri Lanka, Pakistan seems well-positioned to secure a comfortable victory against Nepal. This is in contrast to Nepal, which is participating in its maiden Asia Cup and boasts only two players, leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane and all-rounder Dipendra Singh Airee, with experience in T20 leagues.
With the exception of Lamichhane, who has played in the Pakistan Super League, the rest of the Nepali players have limited exposure to the playing conditions in Multan. Despite achieving ODI status in 2018, Nepal is ranked 15th in the 50-over format, indicating its proximity to its aspiration of qualifying for the 2027 World Cup, set to feature 14 teams.
After arriving in Pakistan a week earlier, Nepal’s performance against Pakistan, a tournament favourite, will be closely observed. While Pakistan is slated to play only two matches at home and the rest in Sri Lanka, including a highly anticipated clash against India, the encounter with Nepal presents Pakistani players with an opportunity to refine their skills.
Given the sweltry weather of the city, both teams are likely to heavily rely on their spinners to make an impact on the game.
Babar Azam (c), Abdullah Shafique, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Salman Ali Agha, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Haris, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Usama Mir, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Saud Shakeel, Tayyab Tahir (travelling reserve)
Rohit Paudel (c), Kushal Bhurtel, Aasif Sheikh, Bhim Sharki, Kushal Malla, Aarif Sheikh, Dipendra Singh Airee, Gulshan Jha, Sompal Kami, Karan KC, Sandeep Lamichhane, Lalit Rajbanshi, Pratish GC, Mousom Dhakal, Sundeep Jora, Kishore Mahato, Arjun Saud