At the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, the eventual winners, Australia, played the ‘minnows’ Afghanistan in a must-win game for them to proceed further into the tournament. Solid batting performances from David Warner and Steven Smith helped the Aussies to comfortably march past Afghanistan.
Now, four years later, Australia meet the same team against which it had revamped its campaign in 2015, but this time in a Round Robin Format and in their campaign opener, in a game which will be the first Official International game for Warner and Smith since their ban was lifted on 30th March, 2019 following the Sandpaper Gate incident.
The defending Champions will look for a perfect start to their World Cup Campaign against Afghanistan, who might not be any match to Australia on paper, but will believe that they can win against any opposition on their day as the win against Pakistan in a Warm Up fixture reaffirms.
Aussies will know that although they have peaked at just about the right time, the Afghans have it in them to post a challenging task at the highest level. In fact, Afghanistan’s rise as an International side is one of the most inspiring stories of Cricket.
Although batting might be a cause of concern for the Afghans, quality bowlers like Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi can put the Aussie batsmen to test even if the wickets have the slightest hint of turn and bounce. Form is also on their side as the duo picked up a total of 5 wickets in the win against Pakistan in the Warm Up.
As far as the batting is concerned, Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib has Hazratullah Zazai and Hashmatullah Shahidi to rely upon and the two showed remarkable composure to chase down 263 against a quality Pak bowling attack consisting of Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir.
The biggest positive for Australia ahead of the game is that the star opener David Warner has cleared his fitness tests and is all set to open the batting. However, that has put the team management in a fix. It would be interesting to see how Usman Khwaja is drafted into the Playing 11, whether he plays at No 3 or is dropped altogether.
The return of Steven Smith will also strengthen the middle order and captain Aaron Finch will hope that Smith makes his return to the International Cricket a memorable one with his superb batting skills. Australia’s bowling has already been in a good form with all three quality bowlers- Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Adam Zampa set to feature in the Playing 11. A call on whether an extra pacer or spinner should be included will depend on the 22 yards at the Bristol County Ground.
For Afghanistan, who have the batting line up that includes Rahmat Shah, Mohammad Shahzad, Hazratullah Zazai, Ashgar Afghan and Hashmatullah Shahidi, it would be an enormous challenge to stand up to the Aussie pace attack who will try their best to unsettle the Asians.
The Aussies will look to maintain their dominance in the game and move ahead in the tournament- their biggest challenge being the Afghan spin trio of Rashid, Nabi and Mujeeb ur Rehman. For all the hype around Rashid Khan, the star bowler has never played a 50 over game against Australia and would be eager to do well against the current World Champions. His variations and knack of picking up wickets at crucial stages of the game make him the most dangerous weapon that Afghanistan can boast of.
The Aussies will hope that Rashid is not able to make an impact on the game but is sure to test how well Australia can play his style of spin.
The teams will fight it out at the Bristol County Ground 6:00 pm (IST) onwards.
Where to view: Exclusive broadcast in India on Star Sports Network and Hotstar, in the UK on Sky Sports.