Australia steer past spirited Afghanistan to kick-start title defence
The defending champions triumphed by eight wickets with 15.2 overs to spare, extending their ODI win-streak to nine.
After being put in the field by Gulbadin Naib, Australia made early inroads as Afghanistan lost both their openers for ducks. Mitchell Starc and Cummins bowled with pace, while Nathan Coulter-Nile banged in the bouncers.
Rahmat Shah (43) and Hashmatullah Shahidi (18) then set out to do what they do best – dig in deep and steady the ship. The pair added 51 runs for the third wicket. They now have 556 ODI runs between them at a healthy average of 55.60.
Adam Zampa’s precision, coupled with Steve Smith’s on-field brilliance, got Australia back in the driver’s seat, as Afghanistan collapsed from 56/2 to 77/5. However, Najibullah Zadran (51), the next batsman in, went after the bowlers – particularly Zampa – almost immediately.
The approach came to fruition in the 25th and 27th overs, wherein he smashed the spinner for one four from each. Then came the 29th over in which Zampa was hit for 22.
Zadran and Gulbadin (31) added 83 runs between them: the highest sixth-wicket stand against Australia in World Cups since 2003. The former notched up his fifty from 46 balls, playing a vital role in steering Afghanistan past the 200-run mark.
However, Australia clawed back once again, with Stoinis and Zampa claiming the next three wickets for six runs. A final flurry from Rashid (11-ball 27), however, meant that Afghanistan finished on 207.
Warner (89*) and Finch (66) started well, denying Afghanistan an early breakthrough in the chase. The left-handed Warner started cautiously with one run from his first seven deliveries. Finch, on the other hand, exhibited intent, adding 15 runs from his opening seven.
The duo reached their 11th 50-run partnership in the format with minimum fuss. Finch welcomed Rashid to the attack with a four and a six, notching up his half-century in the process. He was ultimately dismissed by Naib in the 17th over. Khawaja didn’t last long, falling to Rashid for 15.
Warner soon capped his successful comeback with a steady half-century scored in 74 balls. Smith hovered around till the final over of the innings, but was ultimately dismissed by Mujeeb Ur Rahman before Glenn Maxwell arrived to hit the winning runs with a boundary from his first ball. ICC