The rich tapestry of historical connection that tangles Pakistan and Afghanistan is impossible to do justice to in a game preview. As the sub-head suggests, there really is a far more significant big picture to any Afghanistan-Pakistan contest, especially at a World Cup. Pakistan's assistance to Afghanistan in the early stages of their development played its part in helping an unlikely cricketing destination rise to Full Member in double-quick time, however Afghanistan-Pakistan relations have gone south since.
It is the one thing that has remained consistently stable in the country in the past two decades. Despite domestic troubles, their men's cricket team has found a way to ensure its progress isn't stunted. New talent keeps coming forth to the extent that Afghanistan's presence at major ICC events, like this one, is almost beginning to be taken for granted.
A clash against Pakistan at this time, though, arguably has as deep and complex a subtext as an India-Pakistan game (of course without the on-field history), but for all that has divided these two nations, they stand side-by-side in one aspect this tournament. Both are unbeaten and both are in the top two of Group 2. Pakistan crushed India, then took down New Zealand while Afghanistan have routed Scotland with a massive net run-rate that might end up being crucial later on.
They have, however, played only one T20I against each other - nearly eight years ago - and it's a pair of recent ODI clashes that provide much of the needle that spices this contest up. Pakistan triumphed twice in the final over, once at the Asia Cup in 2018, and then at the ODI World Cup in 2019, the second of which saw significant crowd trouble.
A win here for either side would be a colossal step towards the final four. Pakistan's victory would effectively put them there, with clashes against Namibia and Scotland upcoming. An Afghanistan triumph would see them leapfrog Pakistan, and with that huge net run-rate lead they've sprung out to, possibly only need a win against Namibia to have one foot in their first ICC World Cup knockout round. But while both sides have a point to prove, and two to gain, the bragging rights, though, will be as much a driving factor.
Afghanistan: WWWWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
No man personifies that flashing red-light - that is Afghanistan in T20Is - quite as conspicuously for Pakistan as Hazratullah Zazai. Zazai put bowlers in the PSL to the sword, with 212 runs at a strike rate of 185.96 in only five innings. These performances came in the run-shy UAE, against many of the bowlers who he will come up against on Friday. A 35-ball 56 in a warm-up against West Indies was followed up by 44 off 30 in a thumping win over Scotland.
While Shoaib Malik was happy, and experienced enough, to play second fiddle to Asif Ali at the death against New Zealand on Tuesday, he might expect himself pressed into more of a leading role against spin-heavy Afghanistan. Malik's reputation against spin will be put to the test, and the game could well come down to which side negotiates the others' slower bowlers better. At nearly 40, he does have positive experiences from the past to take inspiration from, particularly the famous Asia Cup contest against Afghanistan that he, and Pakistan, won in the final over.
Afghanistan are expected to keep the same XI.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 3 Rahmanullah Gurbaz, 4 Najibullah Zadran, 5 Mohammad Nabi (capt), 6 Asghar Afghan 7, Gulbadin Naib, 8 Karim Jannat, 9 Rashid Khan, 10 Naveen-ul-Haq, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman
If Imad Wasim recovers from the blow to the knee he sustained while batting against New Zealand, Pakistan should be unchanged too.
Pakistan: (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 3 Fakhar Zaman, 4 Mohammad Hafeez, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Hasan Ali, 10 Haris Rauf, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Stats and trivia
These two sides have only ever played one T20I against each other - in December 2013. Pakistan won with one ball to spare.
Tim Southee dismissed Babar Azam for his 100th T20I wicket earlier this week. Rashid Khan now has the chance to make his 100th T20I scalp a Pakistani too; the legspinner is on 99.
"This is a request to all the fans… I hope they remain cool and calm and just focus on enjoying the game. This game is all about enjoyment and bringing nations together and people together."
Rashid Khan does not want a repeat of the unsavoury crowd scenes that followed the conclusion of the Afghanistan-Pakistan contest at the 2019 ODI World Cup.