Aiming at a third win in succession, New Zealand will begin as the clear favourites against Afghanistan when the two sides meet in the thirteenth match of the ICC World Cup 2019 at the County Ground Taunton on Saturday.
Kane Williamson’s side is at the peak of the World Cup 2019 points table after back-to-back successes against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
The Black Caps eased past for a 10-wicket win over Sri Lanka in their opening game. However, New Zealand were made to toil hard in the field against Bangladesh on Wednesday at The Oval in London.
Meanwhile, it is Gulbadin Naib’s Afghanistan who has received a major blow after their opening batsman and wicket keeper Mohammad Shahzad was ruled out of the World Cup because of knee injury.
Although the batsman has been replaced in the squad by 18-year-old Ikram Ali Khil, the boots of Mohammad Shahzad would be too big to fill and that too in such an important tournament.
Afghanistan got a seven-wicket whipping from Australia in Bristol before they were bundled out for 152 in 33 overs, chasing a modest total of 202 runs against Sri Lanka in Cardiff. It is their batsmen who have disappointed while their bowlers have done a decent job so far. If their batsmen step up their game against an in-form Kiwi line up, it will be game go on at Taunton.
For the Kiwis, veteran Ross Taylor’s form will be an enormous plus yet Williamson will need his other batsmen in form to avoid the kind of batting collapse that happened against Bangladesh the other day.
At one point, New Zealand were 160/3. However, a sudden batting collapse left their side reeling and it was left to Mitchell Santner and Lockie Ferguson to take them over the line after they had lost eight wickets.
For the Afghans, Mohammad Nabi took four wickets while star spinner Rashid Khan scalped two as they bowled out Sri Lanka for 201 in their second match. However, it was their batting that let them down with none of the players ready to make an impact and play an innings of substance.
While Afghanistan’s spin attack of Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman haven’t had a bad game so far, they desperately need their batsmen to bat with more responsibility.
Kiwi openers Martin Guptill and Colin Munro would hope to play aggressive cricket right from the word go and Nabi’s bowlers face a stern test ahead as New Zealand have a long tail of batsmen.
The venue of the match is itself fascinating. Taunton is all set to make an International return since the India-Sri Lanka clash in 1999 which is best remembered for Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid’s 318-run second wicket stand, which helped India make 378 runs.
It is likely that 2019 Cricket World Cup will see another high-scoring match in Taunton.
The match is scheduled to be played at the County Ground Taunton, 6 pm (IST) onwards.
Afghanistan: Ikram Ali Khil, Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib (c), Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Hamid Hassan, Asghar Afghan, Noor Ali Zadran, Aftab Alam, Samiullah Shenwari.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (c), Tom Blundell (wk), Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Lockie Ferguson, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham (wk), Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylo