JUNE 1, 2019
Australia 209 for 3 (Warner 89*, Finch 66) beat Afghanistan 207 (Najibullah 51, Rahmat 43, Cummins 3-40, Zampa 3-60) by seven wickets
BRISTOL, ENGLAND – Eleven years after winning the World Cricket League Division Five in the British Isles, Afghanistan completed a remarkable turnaround to make it to their second World Cup, also in the UK, but Australia captain Aaron Finch and his fellow opener David Warner rained on their parade, handing them a seven-wicket defeat.
In his first international game after serving a one-year ban for his role in the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, Warner was booed when he walked out to open Australia’s 208 chase and later when he reached a half-century. Some fans even dressed up in sandpaper boxes. Steven Smith, if anything, drew louder and more persistent boos when he walked out at No. 4. But the two marked their reunion with a busy 49-run stand – highlighted by frenetic running – which hastened Australia’s victory. Smith fell with Australia three away from victory, but Glenn Maxwell teed up the win with a first-ball four. Warner walked off, bat raised and unbeaten.
It was Mitchell Starc – another comeback man – who had laid down the marker with a thrilling first over, where he breached the 150kph barrier. The mean inswinger barged through the defences of Mohammad Shahzad, for a duck, and he backed it up with an even meaner stare.
In the next over, Pat Cummins had the other opener Hazratullah Zazai nicking off for a duck, too. Najibullah Zadran and captain Gulbadin Naib muscled 83 together off 77 balls after that, but Afghanistan’s go-for-broke approach meant that they were dismissed for 207 with nearly 12 overs unused in their innings. In the end, they were left with a teasing thought: what might have been had they batted 50 overs and given their world-class spinners more runs to work with?
In pursuit of a rather slim target, Finch went after both Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Rashid Khan to force Afghanistan into a corner. He deployed his signature giant stride and crunched 20 off ten balls from Mujeeb, hitting him out of the attack. By the time Rashid was introduced, Australia were 69 for 0 in 13 overs. Rashid’s first two balls to Finch were carted for four and six, but three overs later Naib tricked Finch with a 111kph slower ball and had him holing out to deep cover.
At the other end, Warner reined himself in and took charge of the chase after Hamid Hassan – with his Rocky-style headband on and Afghanistan flag painted on his cheeks – harried the opener with pace. Pace like fire. Pace at 145kph. Pace that belied his near two-year absence from top-fight cricket.
Warner, though, saw off that fiery spell and built his innings with gentle little bunts and pushes. But there was one stirring moment when he swatted a slower ball from Dawlat Zadran over mid-off. Outside of that, it was his running between the wickets that stood out: he claimed nine twos and one three. After getting to his fifty off 74 balls, he grew more fluent, particularly against spin and ushered Australia home in fuss-free fashion.
Afghanistan had showed sparks of brilliance after choosing to bat first, but they could not sustain it for long enough. Rahmat Shah played some exquisite punches and flicks during his 43 while Najibullah unleashed unleashed a more brutal assault on Adam Zampa, slamming him for 4,4,6,6 in the 29th over. Naib had his share of fun, hitting Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile away to the leg-side boundaries. But just when the Najibullah-Naib stand was threatening to take the game away from Australia, Marcus Stoinis returned to the attack and bounced out both the set batsmen.
Rashid then cracked Stoinis for four boundaries in five balls to haul Afghanistan past 200. But, they continued to throw their bats and wickets away, folding in 38.2 overs. Zampa and Cummins, who wound up with three wickets each, cleaned up the tail and set the scene for Warner’s match-winning return.