Afghanistan 284 (Gurbaz 80, Alikhil 58, Adil Rashid 3-42, Wood 2-50) beat England 215 (Brook 66, Malan 32, Rashid Khan 3-37, Mujeeb 3-51, Nabi 2-16) by 69 runs
Afghanistan claimed the most famous scalp of their international history, and in the process provided the first big shock of the 2023 World Cup, by routing England’s world champions by 69 runs in a spin-and-seam masterclass under the Delhi floodlights.
If, after winning the toss and choosing to chase, England had assumed the second half of the match would be a cakewalk to match the 283 target that New Zealand had waltzed past in their tournament opener, those notions were scotched during a startlingly attacking powerplay from their opponents.
Farooqi’s loosener was more than enough to cause a few sideways glances in the England dressing-room, a wicked full-length inswinger from his zippy left-arm line pinned Jonny Bairstow on the crease and extracted a perfectly justifiable on-field verdict from Rod Tucker, irrespective of Bairstow’s stinkeye as he stalked from the crease after a seam’s-width DRS verdict.
But no such second-guessing was required for England’s second victim of the powerplay: Joe Root, squared up by Mujeeb’s front-of-the-hand slider, and bowled for 11 from 17 – yet another telling powerplay failure for England’s faltering kingpin – as the ball kept low to rattle middle and off.
At 68 for 3 in the 13th over, the alarm bells were ringing.
With Curran on 10 from 23 balls, Nabi – armed quite rightly with a slip – returned with another collector’s item to collect another left-hander, as Curran poked limply at a dipping offbreak and fenced low to Rahmat Shah. And it was only once the result was a foregone conclusion that England finally broke out of their defeatist mindset, with Reece Topley’s three fours in a row off Farooqi proving to be among the cleanest strikes of a flat-lining display.
It was a crushing victory by any standards, but the gulf between Afghanistan’s attacking mindset and England’s muddled approach was even more vast than the final result made it out to be.
And it was Gurbaz’s mini-masterpiece that set the tone for his team. Presented with a surface on which South Africa’s batters had posted three centuries in last week’s World Cup record 428 for 5, he climbed on to the offensive, particularly against another timid new-ball spell from Chris Woakes, whose search for form has epitomised England’s uncertain start to their title defence.
Woakes’ first ball of the match was a wild sighter that flew away through Buttler’s legs for five wides, and Afghanistan scarcely needed any more encouragement to put the hammer down on such a visibly weak link in England’s attack. In his second over, a premeditated hack from Gurbaz through the line persuaded Woakes to drag his length back, and Gurbaz was waiting with the sucker punch, a vicious slammed pull over deep square-leg for six.
Two more fours followed in Woakes’ next over, lashed through the covers as he failed to land his cutters, and though Topley at the other end was proving more frugal with his high-kicking left-arm seam, Gurbaz had utter faith in the true nature of the pitch, and twice climbed through an offering of width across his bows with a brace of savage cuts.
Curran replaced Woakes but fared little better. Gurbaz demolished his second over, which disappeared for 20 with two more fours and another muscular six over midwicket to close out Afghanistan’s powerplay on an ominous 79 for 0. He duly brought up his fifty from 33 balls, the fourth fastest of the tournament to date, with a calculated sweep for four off Adil Rashid’s second ball.
England’s concerns had deeper to go before they could improve. Mark Wood was rapid from the outset of his spell, but a misdirected bouncer was jemmied up and over deep third with a flick of the wrists, before Gurbaz nailed his fourth six – and arguably the best of the lot: an effortless pick-up over deep midwicket as Rashid looped a legbreak into his arc. And when the injury-plagued Topley jarred his knee while failing to cut off another pull through fine leg, and limped off for treatment, the concerns in the England camp, and for his father Don sitting up in the stands, were plain to see.
Topley returned in due course, however, by which stage it seemed that Afghanistan’s innings had imploded in a familiar flurry of self-destruction. After playing out a maiden against Rashid, Ibrahim Zadran picked out Root with a head-high clip to midwicket, and before he could settle, Rahmat was dragged out of his crease in Rashid’s next over, to be smartly stumped by Buttler for 3 from eight balls.
And then… catastrophe.
Hashmatullah Shahidi nudged his first ball to midwicket and set off for a unthinking single, and Gurbaz was barely in the frame as the shy came in from midwicket. He stalked off the pitch, utterly livid with himself and his captain, smashing his bat on the boundary marker and a passing chair as he did so, knowing full well that those blows could and should have been meted out on England’s toiling bowlers instead.
But even as Afghanistan struggled to regroup, the seeds of England’s downfall were plain to see. Liam Livingstone settled into an excellent mid-innings holding role, completing a full ten-over spell for the first time in his ODI career, while Root was also a handful with his offbreaks as he bowled Shahidi for a becalmed 14 from 36.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket