Afghanistan 284 (Gurbaz 80, Alikhil 58, Adil Rashid 3-42, Wood 2-50) beat England 215 (Brook 66, Malan 32, Rashid Khan 3-37, Mujeeb 3-51, Nabi 2-16) by 69 runs
Afghanistan claimed the most famous scalp of their international history, and in the process provided the first big shock of the 2023 World Cup, by routing England’s world champions by 69 runs in a spin-and-seam masterclass under the Delhi floodlights.
Their dominance was set in motion by a fearless display of power-hitting from the 21-year-old Rahmanullah Gurbaz ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/rahmanullah-gurbaz-974087), whose 80 from 57 had promised so much more until a run-out sawed him off in his prime. But Ikram Alikhil ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/ikram-alikhil-935553) marshalled Afghanistan’s lower-order with a precious half-century on his World Cup debut, whereupon they set about making a target of 285 seem as dim and distant as England’s hopes of defending their title must now feel.
If, after winning the toss and choosing to chase, England had assumed the second half of the match would be a cakewalk to match the 283 target that New Zealand had waltzed past in their tournament opener, those notions were scotched during a startlingly attacking powerplay from their opponents.
Jos Buttler ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/jos-buttler-308967)‘s decision to bat second had seemingly been influenced by the likelihood that the ball would skid on to the bat under the floodlights. But instead, the evening conditions merely exacerbated the natural attributes of each of Afghanistan’s bowlers, not least Fazalhaq Farooqi ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/fazalhaq-farooqi-974175) and Mujeeb Ur Rahman ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/mujeeb-ur-rahman-974109), right from the outset of their innings.
Farooqi’s loosener was more than enough to cause a few sideways glances in the England dressing-room, a wicked full-length inswinger from his zippy left-arm line pinned Jonny Bairstow on the crease and extracted a perfectly justifiable on-field verdict from Rod Tucker, irrespective of Bairstow’s stinkeye as he stalked from the crease after a seam’s-width DRS verdict.
But no such second-guessing was required for England’s second victim of the powerplay: Joe Root, squared up by Mujeeb’s front-of-the-hand slider, and bowled for 11 from 17 – yet another telling powerplay failure for England’s faltering kingpin – as the ball kept low to rattle middle and off.
Not for the first time, Dawid Malan ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/dawid-malan-236489) was the most composed batter on show, his 32 from 39 balls singlehandedly dragging England through the powerplay without further loss. But Mohammad Nabi ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/mohammad-nabi-25913), playing his 150th ODI out of a possible 156 for his country, was waiting for him as the fielding restrictions lifted. Nabi’s fourth ball was a moment of offspinning poetry – a flighted, dipping delivery that made Malan believe his fifth boundary was on the cards, only for Ibrahim Zadran to spring the trap at short cover.
At 68 for 3 in the 13th over, the alarm bells were ringing.
Buttler’s exhortation in recent weeks has been to “attack”… but even he was powerless to practice what he had preached in such invidious circumstances. His only shot in anger was a pointed one, a bullet drive through the covers as Afghanistan’s main threat Rashid Khan ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/rashid-khan-793463) entered the attack in the 17th over. But Naveen-ul-Haq’s fiercely flicked seamers seemed to spook him from the outset, and after being beaten twice in his first four balls, he drove without conviction through a booming inswinger, and had his stumps splattered for 9 from 18.
England’s diffidence thereafter was startling. Liam Livingstone never looked settled in his 10 from 14, eventually planting his front foot down the line to Rashid and burning a futile review in the process. Sam Curran seemed focussed solely on holding up an end while Harry Brook ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/harry-brook-911707) got busy with a fighting half-century, including a handful of exquisite drives down the ground, and in the 31st over, England’s first and only six of the innings, which told a tale – especially when set against the previous World Cup meeting between these teams. Afghanistan by contrast had launched eight.
With Curran on 10 from 23 balls, Nabi – armed quite rightly with a slip – returned with another collector’s item to collect another left-hander, as Curran poked limply at a dipping offbreak and fenced low to Rahmat Shah. And it was only once the result was a foregone conclusion that England finally broke out of their defeatist mindset, with Reece Topley’s three fours in a row off Farooqi proving to be among the cleanest strikes of a flat-lining display.
Full report to follow…