Australia vs Afghanistan: Shock Upset?
Australia takes on Afghanistan on 1st June 2019 at Bristol County Ground. On paper, it is defending champions lined up against the lowest ranked team of the tournament. So apparently Australia should easily walk away victorious. However, not the case going by the form of Afghanistan in the last two year.
In last year or so, Afghanistan had victories over Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, West Indies and tied against India which was as good as pulling victory from jaws of defeat. So can Afghanistan stand up to the might of the Australian or will Australia bully the Blue Tiger? Here is the squad, let us analyze-
Gulbadin Naib (capt), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Noor Ali Zadran, Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Afghan, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shinwari, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Aftab Alam, Hamid Hassan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
The stars of Afghanistan team Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and to an extent Mujeeb Ur Rahman are well known around the world thanks to their exploits around the world in global T-20 league. Much onus will lie on them given Australia struggles against quality spin in the past. All of three are unique bowler’s, Rashid Khan, the No.2 ranked ICC ODI Bowler, with his googlies and leg breaks can make life difficult on any pitch while Mujeeb at a young age is equipped with off-breaks, carrom balls, googlies, an arm ball. Mohammad Nabi can tie one end up, and his economy rate of just over 4 reflects that. So a unique combination indeed.
Also, what goes more in Afghanistan favor is they had experience of playing on the ground in a stunning victory over Pakistan by three wickets a week ago where they chased 260 odd runs. Moreover, they emerged victorious against the team, which was acclimated to condition well before anyone by playing 5 ODIs against England. So victory cannot be called just one-off or rustiness of Pakistan.
Afghanisthan Batting: Not the one to easily rollover
Afghanistan batting might not have stars like the Kangaroos, but slowly their batting stock is rising as well Mohammad Shehzad is well known for his big sixes after his 124 against India. Hazratullah Zazai made the world stand up and take notice of him following 162 off 62 balls in T-20 game against Ireland. Last week against Pakistan, Zazai hit Pakistani bowler for five fours in an over, now takes some talent.
While Zazai-Shehzad makes for the destructive duo at the top, following them is arguably Afghanistan best batsman cool-headed and composed Rahmat Shah.
Rahmat Shah has the technique and temperament to be the glue while the rest of his teammates bat around him. A glimpse of his talent could be seen in the test cricket where he notched up scores of 76,98 in their maiden test victory over Ireland. The newly named Test captain relies upon singles, doubles in the middle overs and more importantly is consistent. He looked good in 32 he scored in warmup victory over Pakistan. The emerging nation needs a player like him to calm the proceedings if a wicket falls or even if openers have laid the platform. He would have good company in Hasmatullah Afridi, Asghar Afghan to put up a reliable display and march towards setting or chasing the target. It was Afridi 74* that set up the victory for Afghanistan amidst the Wahab Riaz destructive spell at the death. While Dawlat Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan can tonk a few if the ball comes in their zone. Nabi, Rashid is well renowned as an all-rounder for the teams they play for in global T-20 league. If everything falls in place, Afghanistan can post anywhere between 280-300 at the most. They do have the capability to start off well ,weather the storm ,and finish on a high given their batting unlike what you expect from an emerging nation to bat in one way traffic.
Afghanistan Bowling:Over dependency on individuals
Can they defend the same score? Apart from three usual suspects in the bowling department, Rashid, Nabi, and Mujeeb. There is Hameed Hassan who did well in CWC 2015 picking eight wickets in 6 matches which includes 3-45 against Sri Lanka. However, since then injuries had taken a toll on his bodies before selector decided to spring a surprise by recalling him. Then there is Aftab Alam, Gulbuddin Nabi the bits and pieces cricketer. So not a lot in the pace bowling department, so the onus on three bowlers to do the bulk of job and keep runs under check.
Australia’s key weapon
For Australia at Bristol, Mitch Starc, the left arm bowler, holds the key as Afghan team found things difficult against Wahab Riaz. Starc can do similar demolition job and if Pat Cummins gets in right Australia can steamroll the Afghanistan batting.
In the batting department, David Warner will be the crucial batsman having played with two of the critical weapons of Afghanistan and against Mujeeb in the IPL. The left-handed batsman can use his twinkling footwork like Steven Smith and play innovative shots much like Glenn Maxwell. Steven Smith, Glenn Maxwell the next two best players of spin and batting in the middle overs become key.
The highest score at Bristol County ground is 369-6, and last month England made the chase of 359 runs look like a walk in the park. So can Afghanistan post challenging total like that or close to it? Highly unlikely against the bowling of Australia. However, if they do restrict Australia to score less than 300, then therein lies the chance of the Afghanistan team.
The match at the moment looks to be 50-50 if Australian vulnerability against spin and the fact that they are yet to get off the mark. An Afghanistan loss is just another day, but if Australia is stunned. It would spice up the tournament, with the victory against Australia and their previous record of victories over Pakistan, West Indies, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and tie against India will make things interesting going forward. Whereas for Australia, coming off a low they it could mean a downslide mentally and defending champions could return home even without being in top-4 such fatal blow it could be while a win against quality bowling lineup will boost their morale. Australia needs to find, so someone to put their hand up in the first encounter, much like Andrew Symonds did against Australia in 2003 World Cup Opening match against Pakistan or Shane Warne in semis against South Africa in 1999 World Cup. So who will it be, let us wait and watch?
Afghanistan is in with as many chances as Australia to win this encounter if they bat well. However, Afghanistan batting could fall like ninepins against Pat Cummins and Mitch Starc, if he gets right.It could go either way’s and could there be a better mark of respect for the war-torn nation than be given as good a chance as defending Champions.They certainly have earned it through cricket they played over the years.And they seem to improve each time they step onto the field unlike the emerging nation of the past who seem to stagnate at one point.
Pic courtesy: ICC