Mark Wood has been cleared of serious injury and will remain part of England’s World Cup squad.
Wood, one of two England bowlers who regularly generate pace in excess of 90 mph – Jofra Archer is the other – pulled up during his fourth over of the warm-up match against Australia in Southampton on Saturday. Given his history of foot and ankle problems, there was some trepidation in the England camp when he was subsequently sent for scans.
But those scans have shown no sign of injury. Instead the England medical team believe Wood simply jarred his foot while bowling.
While Wood will not take part in Monday’s warm-up match against Afghanistan, he was seen bowling on a pitch on the edge of the square at The Oval shortly before play. England believe he will be available for selection for their first World Cup match, against South Africa, at The Oval on Thursday.
England have also had good news about the fitness of their captain, Eoin Morgan. Morgan was diagnosed with a small fracture in a finger on Thursday, but has recovered sufficiently to play on Monday in a 12-man side. Adil Rashid, who missed Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury, also returns to the side.
More to follow…
Maxwell’s bowling helps Australia make their balancing act work
Australia are finding a way. As the group stage of the World Cup nears its halfway mark the defending champions are at the top of the table. They face Bangladesh next and if they win it will take them to 10 points, which could already be enough for a semi-final spot before the tougher challenges of New Zealand and England.
The match against Sri Lanka, won by 87 runs after they quelled an early onslaught by the openers, ended a run of four matches in ten intense days for Australia as they dodged the rain which dogged the last week of the tournament. None of the wins have been perfect, even the ultimately comfortable margin of the latest success coming with further questions about the middle order. Still, they are digging deep into their resources having been forced to rejig the side in the absence of Marcus Stoinis.
The century for Aaron Finch and four-wicket haul for Mitchell Starc took the headlines on Saturday, but the all-round performance of Glenn Maxwell was a crucial part of ensuring the holes that remain in the Australia side did not prove pivotal. His 46 off 25 balls meant that while the final total was probably 20 runs light of where it could have been, momentum was not totally lost at the death.
WATCH on Hotstar (India only) – Maxwell’s rapid 46
Then, perhaps more importantly given the questions of balance, he was able to bowl his ten overs for 46 runs despite Sri Lanka having a terrific platform to build on. That might say more about the issues in Sri Lanka’s batting, but the use of Maxwell’s bowling – which he had the opportunity to use extensively during his time with Lancashire earlier in the season – has been one of the significant developments in Australia’s one-day side over the last few months.
Until March he had not bowled his full 10 overs in an ODI since 2015 – the year he was played as Australia’s lone spinner for the majority of their successful World Cup campaign – with Steven Smith preferring Travis Head’s offspin in the last couple of years of his captaincy. Now he has sent down his quota four times in his last 14 matches, three times going for less than fifty. In this match, he bowled 15 dot balls to Dimuth Karunaratne who could only strike at 71 against him and of the batsmen to face more than one delivery from him, only Kusal Mendis could take him for a run-a-ball. There was no need for Finch or Smith to take their net bowling into the middle.
“I think Smithy obviously rated Heady’s bowling a little bit more, and that’s fine. That happens. That’s an on-the-day decision. I think [Maxwell] has done really well when he’s had the opportunity,” Finch said. “He was a big part of us reining it in today. Two lefties, he had a nice breeze to bowl with, to across, which allowed him to drift the ball quite a bit which made it – made it, he could shut down one side of the ground a bit easier.”
With a decision being made on Stoinis before the next match – and Mitchell Marsh waiting in the wings – Australia’s XI for the Bangladesh game will be interesting given they will have a seam-bowling allrounder to again pick from if needed. The last two matches have seen them go with four quicks, leaving Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon on the sidelines.
The attack continues to lean very heavily on Starc and Pat Cummins – currently the top two wicket-takers in the tournament – and the next few days is a chance for them to catch their breath with Australia’s final four group matches spread over the last two weeks of qualifying. There may even be the chance for some rotation if things continue to go to plan ahead of the semi-finals, but Starc does not want to be part of that.
“We spoke about that before this fixture and wanted to give as much as we could to get the result then have a little bit more relaxed back end to the tournament where we can perhaps have a few more training days or if we need some days we can factor that in as well,” he said. “Ultimately is not up to me but it’s a World Cup and you have to pick your best XI depending on the conditions and opposition but I definitely won’t be putting up my hand up to rest.”
WATCH on Hotstar (India only) – Maxwell’s rapid 46
Having been Player of the Tournament in 2015, Starc is again proving a World Cup trump card with a five-wicket and four-wicket haul already under his belt. “For me I just try to keep my white-ball game very simple,” he said. “I don’t have all these variations. I’m pretty clear on what I want to do whether it’s new ball, old ball or through the middle.
“What I’ve added is able to play different roles against different teams or in different conditions. I might go for more runs but I’m there to make a breakthrough in short, sharp spells. That’s something that has stayed consistent in my one-day cricket. Whether my game suits that, I don’t know. Test cricket is still the pinnacle but the fact I’ve kept my game plan pretty simple in white-ball cricket has kept me in good stead through World Cups and when times haven’t gone so well.”
Top of the table with the leading wicket-taker and leading run-scorer is a handy position to be in. Have Australia convinced they can be champions again? Perhaps not, but while they keep winning that doesn’t really matter.
Afghanistan’s World Cup of self-inflicted chaos
Don’t do this, Afghanistan. There is another way.
There are alternatives to letting chaos overwhelm you. There are brighter timelines, waiting to be seized, in which dysfunction does not define your World Cup. Your opponents, South Africa, might be battling demons from their past. Elsewhere, the likes of Sri Lanka are groaning under the weight of their galactic-scale ineptitude – their manager having recently complained to the ICC about pitches, the team bus, hotels, training facilities, and probably about the photo on his official accreditaiton making him look chubby when all the other managers look sharp and handsome. But there is no reason to follow these established sides down the moronic paths they have picked out for themselves. You can be better. You should at least try.
In this World Cup so far, though, perhaps you have been the most defective outfit, saved only from more intensive media scrutiny by low expectations. Twice in two matches now, oppositions have shellacked Afghanistan with the ball, then punched the lights out with the bat. A trend has developed – a hopeful opening stand ended by a shot of breathtaking daftness, followed by a middle order that falls over like rows of library shelves crashing into each other, before the lower order looks as if it is rolling up its sleeves and readying itself for a fight, before promptly turning heel and fleeing the moment they see the size of the other guy.
WATCH on Hotstar (India only) – Full highlights
But there can be a universe in which Hazratullah Zazai does not spot a bouncer from the uber-quick Kagiso Rabada, and hole out attempting to clear the one deep fielder on the leg side, at deep square leg. The success percentage of that shot is so poor, it is possibly lower than the number of teams the ICC is planning to admit to their next World Cup. There can be a future match, in which wickets three, four, five, six and seven don’t fall in the space of eight runs, multiple batsmen basically tripping over each other in their race back to the pavilion. Only Rashid Khan, with his 35 off 25, gave the innings some semblance of professionalism.
Then there is the selection. Maybe folks who make these decisions feel that normal rules don’t apply to Afghanistan. It’s not hard to see why they might. This team has risen to compete at a 10-team World Cup when 20 years ago, there was really no such thing as Afghan cricket. This is plainly astonishing. That Afghanistan are the only nation at the tournament not to have either borne or applied the yoke of the British empire also makes them exceptional.
But not so exceptional, that, you know, basic logic does not apply. You inexplicably drop your tournament top-scorer – a batsman who hit Afghanistan’s only half-century against Australia, and made the team’s best score in another game – and you should expect to weaken your top order. Najibullah Zadran‘s replacement in this match was Asghar Afghan, the jilted captain (its own little controversy). Instead of a batsman who has twice given substance to Afghanistan’s innings this tournament, you had one who hit his fifth ball back to bowler Imran Tahir.
Captain Gulbadin Naib’s justification was that Asghar was the senior player, and that he commanded a place in the top order the moment he became fit again. Okay, but Afghanistan had failed to make 200 in two matches on the trot. When you have a buffet of misfiring batsmen to choose from, why drop the guy in form? What next from the shooting-yourself-in-the-foot playbook? Batsmen have to hold the bat with their teeth? Bowlers have to do “the worm” to the bowling crease instead of running up? Fielders have to fill their pants with rocks to weigh themselves down?
These are not serious suggestions, by the way, Afghanistan. You don’t have to do any of this.
On the field, Afghanistan engaged in yet more shambolism. Asghar failed to account for the spin on a ball coming to him at third man, toppled over like grain silo when he tried to correct his course, and ended up not getting a hand on the ball, which dribbled mockingly past him to the boundary. Rahmat Shah misjudged the trajectory of a ball at midwicket, ran in for a catch that he might not have made with five-metre long hands, and ended up letting the ball skid over the rope. There were more misfields, overthrows, on-field gesticulating, and a general air of despair over the performance.
After four matches, Afghanistan are now the only team without a victory. Some of this was expected, but their meekness over the last two games was not. In addition to the losses, there has also been a controversy over Mohammad Shahzad’s exit from the World Cup, and rumours that administrative interference is contributing to all this on-field bungling. Their campaign is teetering, but it doesn’t have to be this way. They don’t have to fall spectacularly to pieces on cricket’s biggest stage, like Sri Lanka in 1999, or India and Pakistan in 2007, or England in 2015, 2007, 2003, 1999 and so on.
The established cricket world tends toward farce. The bigger nations are either sacking coaches with every new moon, having their boards strung up in the courts for serious breaches, alienating vast swathes of their own populations by embracing elitism, facing serious credibility problems in the aftermath of cheating scandals, or fighting constantly with their own players. Afghanistan don’t have to follow suit. But right now it seems like they are.
Recent Match Report – Afghanistan vs South Africa, World Cup, 21st match
South Africa 131 for 1 (de Kock 68, Amla 40*) beat Afghanistan 125 all out (Rashid 35, Tahir 4-29, Morris 3-13) by nine wickets
South Africa have finally won one. So far have the Proteas’ stocks fallen in this tournament after three defeats and an unconvincing outing against West Indies, that an Afghan victory in this match was not unthinkable.
But this was a make-or-break encounter for both teams, and it was Afghanistan who blinked – and broke – first, collapsing in a heap after they were unnerved by repeated rain breaks in the afternoon. Having been 39 for 0, Afghanistan’s disintegration began in earnest after the second – and longer – of two rain intervals as they lost four wickets in two overs to Imran Tahir‘s guile and Andile Phehlukwayo‘s wiles, slipping to 77 for 7.
But for Rashid Khan‘s boshing, they might have folded for under 100. He cracked a rapid 35 from No. 9 to save some of Afghanistan’s blushes before they were bowled out for 125. All told, they had lost 10 for 86, with Tahir collecting 4 for 29 and Chris Morris 3 for 13. Phehlukwayo chimed in with two wickets of his own, and he also performed a crucial holding role, stringing together 36 dot balls as Afghanistan’s hit or miss (and today, it was usually miss) tactics backfired.
As has been the case throughout their campaign so far, Afghanistan’s batsmen just didn’t score enough runs to give their busy, bustling bowling attack enough to work with. Had they managed to scrounge together even 250, there might have been a game on – Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla were kept to just 35 runs in the Powerplay, and endured some uncomfortable moments early on – but without a total to defend, any intensity remaining in the competition quickly dissipated.
Faced with a chase that even they couldn’t muck up, South Africa rode on de Kock’s 72-ball 68 to secure a nine-wicket victory – and a vital two points – with slightly more than 21 overs to spare. But while de Kock and Amla’s 104-run opening stand settled the result, the match really turned on Tahir’s remarkable spin with the ball.
More to follow…
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