Cinderella still not at the ball as Aussies open World Cup with win over battling Afghans



Afghanistan 207 all out

Australia 208-3

Australia won by 7 wickets

CRICKETING romantics among us – well non-Australian ones anyway – set out for Bristol earlier today in the hope of seeing Afghanistan topple the reigning champions in the fourth game of the 2019 World Cup.

We were still looking for the tournament’s first Cinderella story and what better way than for the youngest cricketing nation competing to give the Kangaroos an early bloodied nose.

There were fleeting moments when hopes of an upset rose, most notably when Najibullah Zadran (51) and Afghan skipper Gulbadin Naib shared a sixth-wicket stand of 83 off 77 balls.

But deep inside we always suspected Aaron Finch’s side didn’t give a brass Razoo for such stuff of fairy tales.

And ultimately, the ‘Baggy Greens’ thanks to half centuries for David Warner 89 (not out) and Finch (66) the former, like Steven Smith, in his first international since returning from his ball tampering ban – kicked such dreams unceremoniously into the long grass.

Naib’s decision to bat first mystified and delighted in equal measure. Mystery because the wicket was greener than had been anticipated and delight because many of the press were hoping for an early mark to watch the Champions League Final in another sport.

That decision look ill-advised when both openers departed without troubling the scorers. Mohammad Shazad lasted just three balls before Mitchell Starc speared one into his leg stump and Hazratullah Zazai was hot on his heels after nicking Pat Cummins into the hands of wicketkeeper Alex Carey, meaning the minnows were 4-2 in the twinkling of an eye.

Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shaidi threatened a fightback, Shah hitting six boundaries as they shared a half-century stand in 73 balls.

It was the leg-spin of Adam Zampa (3-60) which made the breakthrough, luring Hashmatullah beyond his crease to be stumped by Carey.

And when Rahmat (43) drilled the same bowler into the hands of Smith at cover it was 75-4.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mohammad Nabi was comfortably run out after setting off for a suicidal single and being sent back by skipper Gulbadin.

Despite such travails, the Afghans continued to be cheered to the rafters by the vast majority of a packed house at The Brightside Ground in Bristol.

Najibullah Zadran in particular was lifted by such an atmosphere and cranked it up further when unfurling a flurry of boundaries including successive sixes off Zampa.

The 50-partnership came up in a hurry, an overthrow suggesting Australia were a little ruffled.

Even a drinks interval and being struck on the foot by Starc failed to quell Najibullah’s momentum as he struck the paceman for two further fours. Gulbadin too caught the mood, hoisting Nathan Coulter-Nile for six over cow corner.

Najibullah’s 50 came in 45 balls, but just as hope began to rise Gulbadin skied a top edge off Marcus Stoinis who finished with 2-37. And whether it was naivety or just a lack of game management, Najibullah perished in identical fashion later in the over.

Dawlat Zadran gloved one down the legside to give Cummins a second wicket and despite late belligerence from Rashid Khan (27) Afghanistan were bowled out with almost 12 overs left unused.

A target of 208 never looked likely to stretch Australian resources and so it proved.

Finch soon made Naib rethink the enterprising move of opening with the spin of Mujeeb, hitting the teenager out of the attack within two overs.

Warner was less fluent, edging one from Hamid Hassan just wide of Shah at slip before almost being stumped off the spinner Nabi.

Finch appeared irrepressible, greeting Rashid Khan with a square cut to the third man boundary which took him to 50 from 40 balls, before depositing a long hop almost out onto the concourse.

It was a shock when he holed out in the deep off Gulbadin, but his departure barely slowed the victory charge as Afghanistan’s bowling and fielding became increasingly ragged.

Warner’s 50 was greeted by more boos, but nothing compared to the hostile reception given Smith when he came in at the fall of Usman Khawaja – a first wicket for Rashid.

The former skipper was afforded the loudest cheer of the day when he holed out with his side on the brink of victory, but Warner remained undefeated as the Aussies got home with 15 overs to spare.

So, the Cinderella story is still to be written, though Afghanistan showed enough to suggest they may yet be the ones to pen it.

Australia meanwhile have a resurgent West Indies lying in wait for them at Trent Bridge on Thursday.


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