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ICC World Cup 2015 – ENG vs AFG: A Very English Farewell

By on March 13, 2015

England 101 for 1 (Bell 52*, Hales 37) beat Afghanistan 111-7 (Shafiqullah 30) by nine wickets (D/L method)…

It was time for England to bid farewell to the World Cup and Sydney dutifully laid on a suitably hangdog English day, more downcast than overcast, and a match ravaged by rain. A revised target easily achieved; Afghanistan dispatched on a gloomy evening with nearly seven overs to spare in a run chase cut to 25 overs. What a way to go.

It could have been worse. When rain intervened for a third time, and eventually curtailed Afghanistan’s innings at 111 for 7, England briefly faced the threat of an abandonment which would have brought with it their worst record in a World Cup: they have never before won fewer than two games.

At least they were spared that. They negotiated a revised target of 101 with nine wickets intact, the only casualty being Alex Hales, caught at the wicket for 37. Ian Bell constructed the unbeaten half-century many predicted he would and had the decency to forego a celebration. Playing without fear is easier when you are out of the tournament and there is no fear to be had.

ICC World Cup 2015 - ENG vs AFG: Chris Jordan

They made an entertaining trio, the Afghanistan pace bowlers, awash with physical threat: Shapoor Zadran, intimidating of frame, wild of hair, a left-armer with a run-up so long you could plot it on Google Maps; Hamid Hassan, the fastest of them all, speeds in excess of 140kph, bearing red and green accessories in the shape of a thick headband and war paint on his cheeks; and Dawlat Zadran, more conventional and, on this occasion, less threatening.

They are worthy of respect, too. When the match commenced, during this World Cup, Afghanistan’s pace bowlers had taken more wickets, at lower cost and with a faster strike rate in comparison to their England counterparts.

Hassan was the best of them and he was rewarded with the wicket of Hales, breaking an opening stand of 83 when he found a thin outside edge with one that held its line. But Afghanistan’s ground fielding was accident prone as they failed to cope with a damp outfield: Hales was dropped twice at backward point, the first time before he had scored, by Najib Zadran, Shapoor frustrated on each occasion, hands flung into a forest of hair.

Afghanistan has built an international team out of nothing because of an innate love for the game. England have the resources, but the nation – especially young people – has rarely been more disconnected with its traditional summer game.

Afghanistan are desperate for matches; England are so insanely overstocked with fixtures that they play another associate nation, Ireland, the day after they return from a tour of the Caribbean. The first ODI between these two nations could hardly have drawn a starker contrast.

Those anticipating that Afghanistan’s ingĂ©nues would inflict further misery on England looked mistaken from the outset. There was swing and seam to be had and, by the time the 50 was raised, 21 overs had slipped away with all the appeal of congealed farmer’s broth, Afghanistan had lost four wickets and the mood of the innings was set.

England did not have to produce anything out of the ordinary to cut deeply into Afghanistan’s order and accepted the regular fall of wickets like marker points en route to the airport and a glum flight home.

Broad and Anderson sought respectability in a match that, emotionally, they would have preferred not to fulfil. There was no sense of fun; this was simply a job of work. The new ball was polished not with love and attention, but as if it was a dreary relationship going through the motions for the last time. Anderson hit 144kph, a sliver below 90mph, surely his fastest ball of the tournament.

Two bad shots brought England’s new-ball pair a wicket apiece, both taken by Joe Root at first slip. Nowraz Mangal fenced weakly at a wide one from Anderson; Javed Ahmadi offered an angled bat to Broad.

Chris Jordan, bounding warily to the wicket like a rabbit through a field full of ferrets, also benefited with two wickets: enough to bring him a hollow man-of-the-match award. Afghanistan’s batsmen offering their delights like ripe carrots. Afsar Zazai’s furtive push forward brought an edge to Jos Buttler and Samiullah Shenwari, one of their brighter batting stars in this World Cup, drove to Morgan, diving forward at point.

Injuries to two England allrounders, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes, provided an opportunity for two players who perhaps were involved in an England ODI for the last time. Ravi Bopara and James Tredwell might conceivably suffer from the urge to rebuild in the aftermath of a major tournament. Both took the chance to touch up their international record; smiles proferred perhaps for the final time.

As Nasir Jamal defended in search of stability, it was clear that all Afghanistan’s romance rested with the ball. Jamal had crawled to three from 31 balls when he successfully reviewed umpire Ravi’s decision that he had fallen to a leg-side strangle. The combination of a second rain stoppage and a humdrum length ball from Bopara ended his excrutiating innings on 17 from 52 balls.

A flurry from the captain, Mohammad Nabi, ending with a slog to mid-on; a fine diving catch at fine leg by Bopara, making light of Jordan’s presence, to silence Shafiqullah. Then the rain arrived; the innings eventually officially curtailed.

Afghanistan will return home fulfilled. England not so. Two very different challenges ahead, but challenges nonetheless.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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