2019 Cricket World Cup – Australia v Afghanistan: A nerve-settling start

It could go either way.


Taking my seat in front of the TV as Australia saunters out onto the ground at Bristol, I worry at what might happen. If it was this time a year ago we would have no hope. Smith and Warner would be gone, we’d be in terrible form and have barely an ODI win to our name. But now we have forged on without them and created a winning environment for them to make their grand return to, it’s hard to know how this World Cup will go for us. Suddenly there’s a weight of expectation. We’re one of the favourites. But are we up to the task?


After seeing England’s barnstorming win over South Africa, we need to come out and convincingly put away minnows Afghanistan. If we don’t, we can expect trouble.


Like many people on this Melbourne winter’s night, I’m in front of the heater by the time Starc lopes in for the first ball of Australia’s campaign. Bowling to Shehzad, a very casual looking cricketer who could hit a big ball, anything could happen. Third ball in and Starc finds his stumps with unerring accuracy and thrilling pace. A little touch of in-swing, that’s what we needed. An over later Cummins nicks off the other opener for a duck and we have the perfect start.


But we lack a touch of ruthlessness, and Afghanistan’s middle order are good enough to forge a few difficult partnerships. In some stages, they click and the run rate shoots up to provide some scoreboard pressure on the heavily favoured Aussies. Rashid Khan does what he does in the BBL and plays a breathtaking cameo with the bat that skyrockets their total. But luckily our bowlers have just enough class and consistency to knock them over for a touch over 200. Cummins wraps up the tail with three wickets, while Zampa impresses throughout his middle order spell. Starc bowls tight after his initial breakthrough, but Coulter-Nile has limited impact and Stoinis picks up the slack. Smith is electric in the field. Like a puppy who’s been waiting in a cage for a year, he jumps out with ferocity in the field, lighting up the comfortable little Bristol oval with a great in-close catch and a run out. Carey is clean with the gloves and our fielders settle into a firm groove. It’s not Australia at it’s blistering best, but it’s a solid start to a long tournament.


Coming out to bat, Warner and Finch have the spotlight on them. We have enough batting depth in the squad to change the side around (a rarity), so the pressure is on. Finch starts off with a bang, effortlessly flicking medium pace bowling over fences and near the overseeing apartments that hang over one side of the ground. Warner is more circumspect, perhaps nervous, so Finch is the perfect partner to kick-start the innings with. His half-century is a delight to watch, but his demise brings in the talented Khawaja. Warner picks up the slack, and starts to return to his bullying ways. He punches, drives and cuts the ball with reassurance and confidence. Khawaja doesn’t find top gear and is out relatively early, and so is Smith. But Warner gets his first chance to silence the boos with a sublime 89 not out. Maxwell comes in for a ball and ices the game with a majestic boundary.


All in all, it’s a decent start. No upsets for us, like there will be in the days to come. Warner has found his touch, and our bowlers showed some signs. Coulter-Nile and Khawaja are going to have to step up if they want to keep their place, but Smith and Warner showed why they have been rushed back in. Them, along with the positive form of Zampa, could be the make or break when it comes to getting us in a position to challenge for an unlikely World Cup.


Afghanistan   207 all out (38.2 overs)

Zadran 51 (49 balls)                                                  Cummins 3/40 (8.2 overs)

Shah 43 (60)                                                               Zampa 3/ 60 (8)

Naib 31 (33)                                                               Stoinis 2/ 37 (7)


Australia 3/209 (34.5 overs)

Warner 89 not out (114 balls)                                  Naib 1/ 32 (5 overs)

Finch 66 (49)                                                              Ur Rahman 1/ 45 (4.5)

Smith 18 (27)                                                             Khan 1/ 52 (8)


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