World Cup: Afghan spinners blow England away

- October 15, 2023
| By : Khurram Habib |

Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Rashid Khan and Mohammed Nabi share eight wickets after Rahmanullah Gurbaz’s 80 had set up a stiff challenge for England

Rashid Khan of Afghanistan celebrates the wicket of Liam Livingstone of England during the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup India 2023 between England and Afghanistan at Arun Jaitley Stadium on October 15 in Delhi. (Photo: Getty)

Afghanistan, playing like a band of men possessed, produced the first shock of the 2023 edition of the World Cup as they defeated England by 69 runs at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground of the Arun Jaitley Stadium on Sunday to score their first win over a Test nation in the 50-over quadrennial event.

The Afghanistan spinners, who were largely off-colour in their match against India last week due to the rampaging Rohit Sharma, picked eight of the 10 wickets to leave Jos Buttler’s men shattered.

The England skipper wore a sullen look in the team dugout, sitting distraught as the tail was unravelling and each hope blowing away. His team had suffered a humiliating nine-wicket defeat to New Zealand in the inaugural match of the tournament and now this, just 11 days later.

England, having restricted the Afghans to 284 despite the Asian team’s good start, were relying on their power-packed Bazball style of cricket implemented by a batting line-up that ran deep.

However, they could never get settled on the pitch which appeared good for batting, and lost wickets at regular intervals.

Afghanistan pacers bowled a better line than they’d done in the last game, and got movement too.

Jonny Bairstow was trapped leg-before by pace bowler Fazalhaq Farooqi in only the second over of the innings.

Soon Joe Root played for spin but was beaten by one that came in from the hand of Mujeeb Ur Rahman (3/51). England chugged along sedately, trying to work out the pace, but then Dawid Malan spooned a catch to cover off Mohammad Nabi and then Jos Buttler had a brain-fade moment, caused perhaps by movement over the sight-screen at the Old Club House end, to be bowled by Naveen-ul-Haq, who was being heckled by the crowd for his IPL tiff with Virat Kohli.

At 91/4 in 17.2 overs, the Afghans were roaring like lions, but they had squandered opportunities such as these in the past, most recently at the Asia Cup against Sri Lanka, and England had what is probably the biggest batting depth in the tournament.

But then Liam Livingstone fell just after England had crossed 100 off the bowling of Rashid Khan, who was once again brought in to attack later than expected.

Then 39 balls later, Sam Curran having scratched around for 10, was dismissed by Nabi and the writing was on the wall.

Harry Brook, the last hope for the senior Test nation, tried to parry but his resistance (66 off 61 balls), comprising some powerfully-hit shots, ended as he was caught behind off Mujeeb.

Afghanistan had earlier started off well with the bat, reaching 79 in the first 10 overs as Rahmanullah Gurbaz (80 off 57 balls; 8x4s, 4x6s) drove a 114-run partnership for the first wicket with fellow opener Ibrahim Zadran.

England struck back through the leg-spin of Adil Rashid (3/42) and Livingstone (1/33) as well as the off-spin of Joe Root (1/19).

But cameos towards the end, from Rashid Khan (23 off 22 balls) and Mujeeb (28 off 16 balls) that supported a measured knock of 58 (66 balls) from wicketkeeper-batsman Ikram Alikhil took Afghanistan to a challenging 284.

They had also got 272 in the last match against India but this time they bowled well against a scratchy England batting line-up. Both Afghanistan and England have just one win in three games at this World Cup.

This was Afghanistan’s second win in 50-over World Cup, the last one being against the non-Test nation Scotland in 2015.