England World Cup hopes in the balance after shock Afghanistan defeat
England’s hopes of defending the World Cup suffered an almighty blow in Delhi, where underdogs Afghanistan pulled off a stunning upset to floor the 2019 champions.
Jos Buttler’s side were roundly outplayed on their way to a shock 69-run defeat and have now lost two of their first three games in India to leave their chances of emerging from the group stage hanging by a thread.
Set 285 to win after putting their opponents in, England imploded for 215 in front of a frenzied crowd who roared on Afghanistan’s triumph as if it were glorious home win at the Arun Jaitley Stadium.
In terms of English stumbles on the biggest stage in one-day cricket this was a result to rank alongside the 2011 loss to Ireland in Bengaluru – a game that current Afghanistan head coach Jonathan Trott played in.
Afghanistan are a more talented side but two thumping losses against India and Bangladesh, allied with England’s hard-won reputation in white-ball cricket, still render this a seismic result.
The heavy margin, and the 9.3 unused overs, only increase the magnitude. Harry Brook, the youngest and least experienced member of the England side, fought a lone hand with 66 but with precious little support and a lethargic bowling display it was nowhere near enough.
Ben Stokes was a bystander throughout, still sidelined by a hip injury, and he will now need another trademark miracle to turn around his country’s fortunes.
Afghanistan put England under pressure from the off, Rahmanullah Gurbaz dominating with 80 off 57 balls in an opening stand of 114.
For the third game in a row the usually dependable Chris Woakes set a poor tone, with the first ball of the match disappearing through Buttler’s legs for five wides before Gurbaz teed off.
Ashes hero Woakes was worryingly insipid as he coughed up 31 from his first three overs before giving way to Sam Curran, who managed to up the rate with 26 from two.
Curran narrowly edged Woakes for the worst figures of the day – 4-0-46-0 – and his frustrations were evident immediately, angrily pushing away a camera as the operator moved in for a close shot on the rope.
With 79 chanceless runs in the powerplay and the 100 up inside inside 13 overs, Afghanistan were dictating terms. Then, without warning, things shifted drastically with three wickets in 14 balls.
Adil Rashid took the first two, Ibrahim Zadran flicking to short-midwicket for 28 and Rahmat Shah stumped off a big leg-break, but the third was gift-wrapped to England.
Captain Hashmatullah Shahidi inexplicably called Gurbaz through for a non-existent single off his first ball and saw him run out by a yard. It was a dismal end to his daring knock but a huge slice of fortune for England.
Liam Livingstone took one for 33 as he ran through his full allocation for the first time in ODI cricket, and Rashid nabbed a third, but a gutsy half-century from Ikram Alikhil and 47 from the last five overs put Afghanistan in the hunt.
England’s innings could hardly have got off to a less encouraging start, Jonny Bairstow lbw to a swinging first delivery from Fazal Farooqi.
Joe Root passed him on the way, fresh from scores of 77 and 82 and with the kind of target made for his natural tempo. But he was unpicked by the unpredictable spin of Mujeeb Ur Rahman, clean bowled for 11 by one that turned sharply and skidded through low.
Root had cause to feel aggrieved by the lack of bounce but he was too deep in his crease to react and ended hunched awkwardly over his bat.
Farooqi and Mujeeb tied down the powerplay at 52 for two, before Mohammed Nabi took over in front of the Gautam Gambhir Stand.
With the pitch gripping and England’s nerves fraying he needed just four balls to draw a soft chip from Dawid Malan, whose 32 kept the scoreboard moving without ever hinting at permanence.
At 68 for three, the task in front of Brook and Buttler required calm heads, so a penny for their thoughts at the 15-over drinks break when the stadium lights shut down momentarily, shrouding the ground in darkness, before flashing on an off in time to a pumping soundsystem.
Buttler only faced another five balls, comprehensively bowled by Naveen Ul Haq, who went wide on the crease and speared him with an inswinger.
Brook rose above the drama, relying on timing and touch as he reeled off a series of boundaries to keep the fight alive.
But he needed more help than England’s all-rounders could offer. Livingstone and Curran both came and went for 10 – the former lbw to Rashid Khan’s top-spinner, the latter nicking Nabi to slip.
Brook was playing a solo hand and playing it well but was never able to get his side ahead of the game. Mujeeb made easy work of Woakes and effectively ended the contest when Brook feathered a cut behind with 116 runs still required.
The tail battled gamely but briefly before Khan provided the killing blow, ripping one through Mark Wood’s hack across the line as Afghan celebrations and English recriminations began.
Published: by Radio NewsHub