Afghanistan cause the first upset of the World Cup

Afghanistan spin trio lights up Delhi after Gurbaz storm

I think in cricket we do this thing sometimes where we normalise incredible things. Afghanistan is a good team, and we could say, well they got the better surface for them, and they took full advantage of that to squeeze England and get the win. But obviously, this is a lot more than that. The team that invented cricket just lost to a team from outside the Commonwealth, who learned the game after most of the England players were born. This is a huge thing for cricket, and we need to celebrate every moment like this.

Thankfully, Afghanistan made this fun as well.

Not only did we have Gurbaz attack, but we also had Gurbaz getting angry at a run-out. Then Ikram Alikhil who is kept in a closet between World Cups partnered with the spinners to stretch the innings out. But even then, Afghanistan did not bat out their overs, or 300 past three. But it didn’t matter. Their bowlers just kept taking wickets. Your best chance of beating England is taking wickets, and their seam and spin just went for the stumps all the way through.

In 2016 they should have beaten England, but they were timid. In 2019 they were embarrassed by the World Champions. And today they did it, wow, what a moment for this World Cup.

Rashid Khan redemption (JK)

And what about Rashid Khan? We have questioned his bowling against the best teams in ODIs. Today he started with a four, and it felt like something had changed. We used to wait forever for him to come on and bowl so that Afghanistan would have a chance. Today it felt like him coming into the attack might be something they need to survive.

Remember that it was also against England where he coughed up the most runs ever in a World Cup match, and he didn’t even bowl out. That was such a crazy moment and one that really hurt him.

When his first over was poor, it looked like England had worked him out again. But they had not, he shut down their scoring and took wickets. The Livingstone one was huge, it burned a review as well, but it was their last specialist batter.

But mostly, just a really important day for the T20 MVP. And remember, it wasn’t just his bowling, he chipped in with the bat as well. Incredible performance.

Gurbaz comes alive (CS)

In his first two games, Gurbaz scored at less than a run-a-ball. A strike rate of 75 against India and 75.80 against Bangladesh. Today, he tonked a 33-ball half-century against England.

Despite Gurbaz’s knock, Afghanistan batted like Afghanistan. They lost a bunch of wickets in the middle while going slowly, though they did eventually recover pretty well. We have seen Gurbaz light up the stage in T20 franchises across the globe. But he has also shown that has a very high ceiling in ODIs. It is not just quick-fire half-centuries, he also has the stomach to play those marathon knocks. He and Zadran form a decent opening partnership where he is the aggressor and Zadran is a bit more of an anchor-mould type batter.

The run-out (JK)

The run out of Gurbaz could have changed this match. He was smashing the ball everywhere and looked like he could carry Afghanistan to a 300 score. But when he lost his opening partner, Hashmat was facing the next ball and he was eager to get off the mark.

He gets a leggie from Adil Rashid, it takes the inside of his bat and goes out towards square leg. He takes the run and David Willey runs Gurbaz out. But why did this happen? When you watch it,  it looks like a clearly obvious non-run. What actually happened here is that Willey was on the field as a sub, and he is left-handed. So you can see Hashmat see it goes to the fielder’s left and he takes off. If Willey was right handed this is an easy run. But to a lefty it’s toast.

Mujeeb’s bowling (JK)

So wrong’uns overspin, they come out of the back of the hand and while they spin to the right, mostly they have overspin. But Mujeeb actually skidded his very low. He’s such a talented bowler, we call him an off-spinner, or a mystery spinner. But really he is an every spinner. He can bowl every ball, and his ability to skid it off the new level gives them the option to use him right at the top.

Worth mentioning that his whacking at the end also helped quite a bit.

Mohammad Nabi’s bowling (JK)

I have long been fascinated by Mohammad Nabi’s offspin. Because he has nothing but part-time energy. But over what seems now a 100-year career, his ability to wangle people out by outthinking them and using good off-spin skills is incredible. There is something of an old man hustling at the pool about how he bowls.

And you look at what he did, his wickets were obvious, but the fact he kept England scoring this slow was so important. That is not easy to do for England, even on a wicket that turned.

Ikram Alikhil (SAK)

Surprisingly, this was only Ikram’s 14th ODI innings. He now has half-centuries in two of Afghanistan’s biggest World Cup totals. I remember him saying that he was thankful for being selected in the World Cup last year and thought they should thank him after watching him bat. The sad part is that he has only played 4 innings between the two World Cups. Today, we saw a lot more promise again. His non-boundary strike rate of 55.73 was quite impressive, and that tells us more about his ODI game.

England toothless in first 10 overs (CS)

England lost their mojo in new ball bowling. Their success since 2015 was built on powerplay wickets because they didn’t take many wickets in the middle. So far, they haven’t been as good in the first 10 overs against good batting. Chris Woakes has combined figures of one wicket for 95 runs in 11 overs in the powerplay so far.

Reece Topley & Mark Wood help pull things back (SAK)

You can see that Woakes and Curran clearly had a terrible day at the office. But Topley deserves a mention for his opening spell. He conceded just 21 runs in the first 5 overs. He came back to bowl at the death where he was more expensive - 1/22 in the 2.5 overs, though he got the all-important wicket of Ikram.

Mark Wood is being used in the middle and death overs, and he did pretty decent today. He cleaned up the tail and was a refreshing change for England from all the freebies in the Powerplay. But they really need more wickets from him in the middle phase to replicate the Plunkett role.

Part-timers (SAK)

Yesterday, I talked about how India have the quality of Hardik and Jadeja. While it isn’t close on quality, England also have a very serviceable 5th bowling option for Indian conditions with Liam Livingstone and Joe Root. They combined to bowl 14 overs and returned with 2/52. Sam Curran isn’t a reliable 10-overs bowler yet, at least in these conditions, and Moeen isn’t playing. So they need their top 6 to chip in with vital overs. But the real test will be if these two can do it against batting-heavy teams who play spin well, like India and South Africa.

Harry Brook's proper innings (JK)

Harry Brook’s first 50-over game was in 2017 against South Africa A, it rained, so he never got a chance to bat. In total, he has batted 21 times in this format.

So you look at this and you see that he just hasn’t played many games. One thing England will be happy about today was that this was the innings they weren’t positive he could do now. They wanted him for the power and how he transforms totals into scary numbers. But with Stokes out, they had to use him further up the order, and this was a very grown-up innings from a player who just hasn’t had to do this before. It’s a bad loss but a great win.

Jonny Bairstow vs. Southpaw seam (JK)

Jonny Bairstow got out to a left-arm seamer today. Worth reminding everyone that this is an ongoing issue.