At the Twenty20 World Cup, Australia headed into their last group match with an objective that was both bold and straightforward: they needed to execute the perfect mugging of Afghanistan in Adelaide in order to raise their own net run rate for the tournament and move it ahead of England’s.
They were only able to squeak out a victory by the skin of their teeth in the end thanks to a late assault by Rashid Khan in the last over, which came up four runs short of their target of 168 for eight. Their final score was 164 for seven.
The future of Australia is currently in the hands of other teams, since their qualification for the semifinals is contingent on Sri Lanka’s victory over England on Saturday.
The Afghanistan team of today is significantly more resilient than the one that played Australia in the 2015 World Cup 50-over match and conceded 417 runs. The Taliban fundamentalists have taken control of their country, which has resulted in the destruction of the fledgling women’s program and has forced the men to effectively become a team in exile.
These players have somehow managed to keep their composure and have qualified for this competition straight in the top eight positions. Unfortunately, they will not have the opportunity to show off their skills at the MCG because of two players who were unable to perform. Rashid walked off Adelaide Oval on Tuesday with a badly injured knee, but on Friday night he bowled superbly and batted like a beast. There is no better illustration of their resiliency than Rashid’s performance.
Aaron Finch, Australia’s captain, and Tim David, the team’s finisher, were both ruled out before the match due to hamstring problems. Cameron Green and Steve Smith, who had been on the sidelines for a tournament, were brought in to replace them. Kane Richardson, who was replacing Mitchell Starc as a fast bowler, took the field after the substitutions and was hit for 48 runs while he was on the field. The replacements faced a total of six balls and scored seven runs between them.
Given that Finch had spent his press conference the day before praising Starc as both a new-ball genius and a middle-overs enforcer, it was an especially unusual selection considering that Australia needed fast wickets to take against a batting lineup that was not accustomed to playing at top speed. It was never made public that there was a possibility of injury.
The contest was never completely decided in Australia’s favor. David Warner and Mitchell Marsh posed a threat whenever the field was in play, with the former deftly working to create angles behind square and the latter smashing the ball strongly through the square. They were able to score 50 in the first five overs, but they were afterwards stopped at 25 and 45.
Marcus Stoinis may have hit Australia’s fastest ever 50 against Sri Lanka last week, but despite hitting a couple of sixes against Afghanistan, he could barely surpass a run a ball for his 25. This was despite the fact that he hit the record for the fastest 50 in Australia’s history against Sri Lanka. Glenn Maxwell was the only Australian batsman to score more than 10 runs per over, and he did so while facing both spinners and seamers on his way to a final score of 54 runs off of 32 deliveries.
Naveen-ul-Haq Murid, a young fast with a beautiful motion who faced down the charging Australians and emerged with three for 21, stood out as a player who shone out. Before he fielded off his own bowling to run out Richardson at the non-end, striker’s he bowled a switch-hitting Warner, joined a small club in pinning Smith leg before wicket, and had Pat Cummins caught in the deep for a duck.
Fazalhaq Farooqi has been outstanding throughout the competition, reaching speeds of up to 140 kilometers per hour, striking lengths like the one that got Green out, and landing his yorkers like the excellent example that bowled the dangerous Matthew Wade for six runs. He finished with two for 29, Rashid was his normal frugal self with one for 29, and the only person who was badly struck was everybody’s favorite amateur bodybuilder Gulbadin Naib.
This meant that Australia needed to limit Afghanistan’s total runs scored to 106 in order to match England’s net run rate, and they needed to score fewer than that in order to gain a substantial lead. Hope was swiftly dashed when Rahmanullah Gurbaz blatantly hit a stunning leg-side six and slashed four off of Josh Hazlewood’s first over of the match. After the powerplay, Afghanistan were 47 for two, and then Gulbadin came in to get his own back by robbing runs, primarily from Richardson. He made 30 out of 17 during the powerplay.
A victory for Afghanistan appeared likely; they required 71 runs off of 42 balls, and both Gulbadin (who was on 39) and Ibrahim Zadran (who was on 26) were in a strong position to achieve this. Then, three wickets fell in the space of four balls, including Gulbadin, who was run out by a direct smash from the deep by Maxwell, before Adam Zampa created two catches. After that, Hazlewood took a key wicket by dismissing long-time Big Bash player Mohammad Nabi, who later resigned his position as captain of Afghanistan after the game. Still below that criteria for net run rate, the score was 103 for six.
On the other hand, Rashid was not finished. After working the ball about for 10 from 11, he suddenly hit two monster sixes off Richardson in the 18th over and another from Hazlewood in the 19th over. His approach was straightforward: he would hit a ground ball to anything that was short, a lofted drive to anything that was full, and he would create bat speed by snapping his wrists into the ball like he normally does. It did the job.
Stoinis began the over with a wide ball, and Darwish Rasooli ran himself out at the far end to get Rashid on strike. This left the team needing 22 runs from the last over. Rashid smashed one more six and two fours, one of them just short of the rope, but he still couldn’t quite get there, with 16 from the over being a fine effort as he concluded on 48 not out.
In terms of having an impact on the team as a whole, Afghanistan may probably be remembered in Australia as the team who eliminated them from the World Cup they were hosting at their country’s stadium. In that case, another relationship will have to take center stage. When Australians traveled to Sri Lanka in the middle of a crisis in June, they were met with an outpouring of gratitude for their trip. They have now requested that Sri Lanka fulfill their obligation to them.
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