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Asia Cup 2023: Pakistan most complete bowling side; Siraj, Kuldeep hold India's fortunes

Last updated on 29 Aug 2023 | 06:24 PM
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Asia Cup 2023: Pakistan most complete bowling side; Siraj, Kuldeep hold India's fortunes

In Wanindu Hasaranga's absence, Sri Lanka turn out to be the weakest side on the combination front

*All data is from ODI cricket since 2022 unless mentioned otherwise

READ PART 1: Pakistan, Bangladesh tick most boxes, India face multiple caveats

Spin bowling

The spin bowling numbers of the Asia Cup sides reveal some interesting bits. Nepal have the best bowling average, surpassing the top 10 sides. Sandeep Lamichhane has picked 70 wickets in this period, constituting 65.4% of Nepal’s wickets with spin. That is a heavy percentage. 

However, Nepal have mostly played against non-Test playing nations which puts a big asterisk mark next to their numbers. 

Surprisingly, Pakistan carry grim figures on this criterion. But their average of 38.1 is slighter better than the spin bowling average in their home conditions (41.4) where they have played most matches. Assistance for spinners in Sri Lanka (spin bowling average of 34.1) will bring their slower bowlers into the game.

Pakistan fulfill all the requirements of an ideal spin attack. The Men in Green can play Mohammad Nawaz and Iftikhar Ahmed without affecting any dynamics in the XI. Thus, they can play both types of finger-spinners alongside an attacking leggie in Shadab Khan. On the days they feel adventurous, they can play two leggies with Usama Mir in the squad. That is not it. Pakistan can fit up to five spin-bowling options in an XI, including Agha Salman. 

Afghanistan have the best economy, owing to their diverse range of options. With a leg-spinner in Rashid Khan, a mystery spinner in Mujeeb Ur Rahman and an off-spinner in Mohammad Nabi, Afghanistan relish the most experienced trio of spin unit. 

In addition, they possess a skillful left-arm wrist-spinner in Noor Ahmed sitting on the bench. Afghanistan only miss an orthodox left-arm spin bowling option in an attack that can test any batting force on their day. 

Sri Lanka will dearly miss Wanindu Hasaranga who is ruled out of this Asia Cup due to a grade two strain in the thigh. In his absence, the finger spinners Maheesh Theekshana, Dunith Wellalage and Dhananjaya de Silva will be carrying their spin fortunes. Their variety will come in handy for the island nation. 

Dushan Hemantha - two ODIs in his international career - has been picked as the only leg-spin option in the squad.

Where does India lie in this tally? Not far away from their neighbours in the top half. Kuldeep Yadav is India’s top wicket-taker in this period, leading the recovery of India’s spin fortunes after some grim years. 

Since his comeback in February 2022, Kuldeep has pouched 34 wickets at 20.9 runs apiece. The economy is also a nick under 5 - 4.9. No other Indian spinner is close to these numbers. 

Kuldeep’s performance would be even more critical given India have only three spinners in their squad – two of which are left-arm orthodox spinners. Thus, the 28-year old will have to tie down the left-handers as well. 

For India to have a right-arm spin bowling option, Tilak Varma will need to start bowling more. While the team has not used his bowling much in his brief international career, it will be interesting to see if Tilak gets into the playing XI in the first place. 

Bangladesh is the only side without a wrist-spin option but knows how to make spin-friendly conditions count, with plentiful options in both type of conventional finger-spinners. Shakib Al Hasan and Co. have steamrolled sides for fun in subcontinental conditions. 

Pace Attack

Pakistan are at the top of the charts here. A bowling average of 24.7 becomes more noticeable, considering an average of 35.6 for pacers in Pakistan since 2022. The trio of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf lends their pace cartel an intimidating look alongside a well-rounded spin attack. 

READ: Naseem Shah makes Pakistani pace unit ‘sexier’

India come second on the list, thanks to Mohammed Siraj. The right-arm seamer has snaffled 43 wickets at 19 runs apiece, conceding only 4.6 runs per over. 

However, breaking down these numbers according to phases - powerplay (first 10 overs), middle-overs (overs 11 to 40) and the death overs (last 10 overs) highlight a different story. 

Playing mostly on flatter wickets, Pakistan pacers average 31.7 in the powerplay, the worst by an Asian side in this period. They make up towards the back end, averaging only 15.4 at an economy of 7.2, both second best among all top 10 teams. 

On the contrary, India average 26.5 in the powerplay, with Siraj picking nearly 50% of the wickets. India’s average of 23 in the middle-overs is the best for any pace attack. However, at the death, the Men in Blue concede 33.3 runs per wicket, the most for any side. Therefore, Pakistan and India are at different spectrums of pace bowling. 

Both teams have five pacers each with their first choice pace attack nearly decided. India will fret upon the fitness of Jasprit Bumrah who can fix India’s death bowling issues. They will also have to decide between Mohammad Shami and Prasidh Krishna as their backup seamer. In a similar vein, Pakistan will have to take a call between Faheem Ashraf and Mohammad Wasim from a World Cup lens.

Moving to other teams, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Nepal have middling numbers. Sri Lanka will be further troubled by the absence of a few first–choice seamers. Injuries have ruled Dushmantha Chameera and Dilshan Madushanka out of the tournament. 

Afghanistan have an inexperienced attack. The pool of specialist seamers - Fazalhaq Farooqi, Mohammad Saleem and Abdul Rahman have played 24 ODIs between them. The other two seam bowling options are both all-rounders - Gulbadin Naib and Karim Janat. Hence, seam bowling could be Afghanistan’s Achilles heel on pitches that don’t aid spin. 

Bangladesh have impressive numbers in the powerplay but they are piled up with performances against weaker sides (17 out of 31 powerplay wickets against Ireland, Zimbabwe and West Indies). Nepal will rely heavily on Karan KC and Sompal Kami, alongside the support bowlers Dipendra Singh Airee and Gulshan Jha. 


India have a troubled history of staring down the all-rounder’s barrel whenever a multi-team tournament inches closer. This Asia Cup, and the World Cup to follow, the Men in Blue seem to have made some progress. Not in abundance but India have enough personnel to fulfill the requirements, with two all-round cricketers in both seam and spin bowling department.

However, no bowling option in top five can still bother India. 

Pakistan have the most all-rounders at their disposal. As stated in Part 1 of this article, all of their five spin-bowling options can bat, in addition with the specialist seamers, Naseem and Shaheen contributing with the bat. They will bat till number 10. Shadab Khan is a luxury in terms of an attacking leg-spinner who averages 41 with the bat. 

Without Hasaranga, Sri Lanka are reduced to only two all-rounders - Dasun Shanaka and Dhananjaya de Silva. The latter can chip in with crucial overs of off-spin when required. Shanaka has emerged as a handy number eight in the last few months but it has come at the cost of his bowling numbers. 

Since 2022, the Sri Lankan skipper has averaged 37.5 with the ball. His economy of 5.8 is the highest among all seam-bowling all-rounders in the tournament. 

As the chart suggests, Gulbadin Naib is not an illustrious seam-bowling all-round option for Afghanistan. Karim Janat is another candidate but he has played only one ODI, back in 2017. 

Bangladesh have five all-round options but all of them are spinners. As a result, in an XI with three pacers, they won’t be able to field more than five bowlers, including Shakib and Mehidy Hasan as their all-rounders. Also, no leg-spinner in the squad can be costly in a tournament like this. 

Nepal’s prospects lie in Gulshan Jha, Dipendra Singh Airee and Lalit Rajbanshi. 

Summing up

Continuing from Part 1, where we assessed these teams on the batting parameters, this is how the sides stack up ahead of the Asia Cup.

Pakistan continue to tick all the boxes. They have everything in the moderate and sufficient category. They also possess the best pace attack in the competition. Overall, India only lack a LHB-RHB batting combination. If crucial players click, they are hot favorites to defend their title of the 50-over Asia Cup champions.

Bangladesh miss out on some key aspects but will be a force on turning tracks with their finger-spinners. Afghanistan’s modest batting and seam bowling can undo the efforts of their exotic spin cartel. 

Surprisingly, Sri Lanka suffer the most on the combination front, ticking only one of the nine boxes. Nepal will aim to hog as much limelight as possible from the few positives they hold up their sleeves. 

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