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Match Preview – Afghanistan vs New Zealand, ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021/22, 40th Match, Group 2

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Afghanistan might already be one of the most popular choices globally for cricket fans’ second-favourite international team, but when they take the field on Sunday, they’ll have more supporters rooting for them than ever before. Twitter is already full of India fans with Afghanistan flags next to their usernames. R Ashwin has already joked about India offering the services of their physiotherapist to speed up Mujeeb Ur Rahman’s recovery from the injury that’s kept him out of Afghanistan’s last two games.

But there’s a lot more to this game than the India subplot.

New Zealand and Afghanistan are both still in the semi-finals race. New Zealand have the simpler task – win and they’re through, no matter what India do later against Namibia. And if they do go through, they’ll be on course to complete a hugely impressive set of all-formats results in ICC tournaments – they were ODI World Cup runners-up in 2019, and they clinched the World Test Championship mace earlier this year.

An Afghanistan win is likelier to send India into the semis than themselves, but given how improbable their journey has been in getting as far as they have as a cricketing force, why would you rule out another improbable twist? They certainly have the firepower, with the bat and more so with the ball, to make that happen – particularly if Mujeeb is fit.

But no matter how far they go in this tournament, Afghanistan’s players will leave the T20 World Cup bubble – a refuge that is, for them, more than merely bio-secure – and return to realities that most of their counterparts from other nations would scarcely comprehend. These are hugely uncertain times for this brilliant group of players, so whether you’re an Afghanistan fan, an India fan, or anyone else, be sure to wish them well.

Form guide

Afghanistan LWLWW (last five completed T20Is, most recent first)

New Zealand WWWLW

In the spotlight

When he hits it right out of the screws – that whipped six off Jasprit Bumrah, for example – he looks like one of the most dangerous powerplay hitters in the world, but Hazratullah Zazai has only lit up this tournament in brief spurts so far, as a strike rate of only 116.88 – his career strike rate is 148.64 – would suggest. Three of the four highest totals of this tournament have come at Abu Dhabi, so if there are runs to be had on Sunday, Zazai could choose no better time to unleash his full repertoire.

Trent Boult has taken eight wickets in this World Cup already, but contrary to expectations, only two have come in the powerplay. Abu Dhabi can offer a bit of early assistance to the seamers, though, and if Boult can get the new ball swinging, he probably offers New Zealand their quickest and most efficient route to victory.

Team news

It’s unclear yet if Mujeeb is fit to play, but if he is, he’s likely to take the place of the left-arm spinner Sharafuddin Ashraf, who was expensive against India on the same ground.

Afghanistan (probable): 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 3 Rahmanullah Gurbaz, 4 Gulbadin Naib, 5 Najibullah Zadran, 6 Mohammad Nabi (capt), 7 Karim Janat, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Sharafuddin Ashraf/Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 10 Naveen-ul-Haq, 11 Hamid Hassan.

A stinging straight hit from David Wiese struck Ish Sodhi on the head during New Zealand’s last match against Namibia, but the legspinner has passed a concussion test and is available for selection on Sunday.

New Zealand (probable): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Daryl Mitchell, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Devon Conway (wk), 5 Glenn Phillips, 6 James Neesham, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Adam Milne, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Ish Sodhi, 11 Trent Boult.

Pitch and conditions

Three of the four highest totals of this World Cup have come at Abu Dhabi, but the ground has also produced the lowest powerplay average of the three UAE venues used in this tournament. Expect some early help for the quicks, but also expect the pitch to flatten out as the match progresses. The large boundary sizes could make for some interesting tactical battles, especially if the location of the pitch adds an element of asymmetry.

Stats and trivia

  • Afghanistan have never faced New Zealand in T20Is. They have only met in ODIs so far, at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, with New Zealand winning on both occasions.
  • Apart from Martin Guptill (134.09), all of New Zealand’s batters have gone at strike rates of 111 or below against spin during this World Cup. Afghanistan will surely have made note.
  • Quotes

    “They’re spearheaded by Rashid Khan, Mujeeb [Ur Rahman] is phenomenal as well and Mohammad Nabi is a very cagey offspinner through the powerplay too. That’s definitely where the threat lies with their bowling attack and I’m sure all our batsmen during our scouting meeting have taken that into consideration.”
    Ish Sodhi and New Zealand are fully aware of Afghanistan’s spin threat

    “We only focus on ourselves, our team. Our main focus is how we qualify for the semi-finals, so we will go with that, and our focus is only on us, so we will try our best to qualify for the semi-finals.”
    Afghanistan batter Hashmatullah Shahidi says his team won’t be distracted by the India subplot

    Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo



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    BBL11 2021-22 – Bowling attack gives Melbourne Renegades hope of revival

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    The batting remains questionable and they will be looking for the youngsters to develop

    Captain Nic Maddinson
    Coach David Saker

    Squad
    Cameron Boyce, Zak Evans, Aaron Finch, Jake Fraser-McGurk, Sam Harper, Marcus Harris, Mackenzie Harvey, Josh Lalor, Shaun Marsh, Jono Merlo (replacement player), James Pattinson, Mitch Perry, Jack Prestwidge, Kane Richardson, James Seymour (replacement player), Will Sutherland, Nic Maddinson, Reece Topley (Eng), Unmukt Chand (Ind), Mohammad Nabi (Afg), Zahir Khan (Afg)

    In Nic Maddinson, Jono Merlo, James Seymour, Reece Topley, Unmukt Chand, Zahir Khan
    Out Beau Webster, Peter Hazloglou, Jon Holland, Benny, Howell, Noor Ahmed, Imran Tahir, Imad Wasim

    Last season

    It was another disastrous season for the Renegades finishing last for the second straight year. They won their first match and then lost seven in a row. Their batting was abysmal, bowled out for less than 90 on three occasions and 111 in another match against Adelaide. The bowling was nowhere near as effective as season’s past and they struggled to find a consistent unit as they mixed and matched their overseas players. There was one bright spot as they produced a brilliant chasing win over Melbourne Stars late in the season. Mackenzie Harvey starred smashing 47 not out from 21 balls to give a glimpse into the future.
    International impact
    Renegades have been severely impacted by both Australia selection and injury. Nic Maddinson‘s selection in the Australia A side to face England Lions means the new Renegades captain won’t get a chance to lead his new club until their fourth game at the earliest. Marcus Harris is set to miss most of the season due to Test duty. Aaron Finch is in doubt for the early games due to his ongoing knee issue while Shaun Marsh is set to miss at least half the tournament due to a calf tear. England does have tour of West Indies in the new year and Afghanistan is scheduled to visit Bangladesh but it is unknown if the likes of Reece Topley, Mohammad Nabi or Zahir Khan will need to leave the BBL early.
    Player to watch
    Reece Topley is an important recruit for Renegades and has a chance to make a serious statement to England selectors ahead of the T20 World Cup in Australia next year. Fellow Englishman Harry Gurney was a key part of Renegades’ run to the title three years ago and Topley has a similar opportunity to cause havoc on the inconsistent home surface of Marvel Stadium.

    Key stat (Gaurav Sundararaman)
    Renegades were the worst bowling unit in the previous BBL edition. Their bowling economy rate of 8.61 was the highest among all teams and their death bowling economy was 11.24. If Renegades want to play finals, this is an area they need to focus on. Their attack certainly looks stronger this season

    Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo



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    Chris Gayle farewell on the cards with Jamaica set to host West Indies-Ireland series

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    The series will comprise three ODIs and a one-off T20I, all at Sabina Park

    West Indies will play three ODIs and a T20I against Ireland in Jamaica from January 8 to 16, the CWI has announced, with the possibility that the standalone T20I will be used as a farewell match for Chris Gayle.

    While Gayle will not be part of the ODI squad, with the series counting towards 2023 World Cup qualification through the Super League, the one-off fixture at Sabina Park could be used as his farewell game. ESPNcricinfo understands that a decision has yet to be made on Gayle’s inclusion but that the issue will be up for discussion at the next meeting of CWI’s board of directors later this month.

    “It’s whether collectively we all feel that it’s appropriate for him to have one last game at home to say farewell in a one-off game,” Johnny Grave, CWI’s chief executive, told the Mason and Guest radio show in Barbados last month. “That Ireland series would represent that opportunity.

    “It would certainly be appropriate, as far as I can see it, to treat our players and give them the opportunity to bow out – especially players like Chris who have had unbelievable careers and won trophies for the West Indies.”

    Ireland will travel to the Caribbean on December 31, immediately after their series against USA which starts on December 22 and comprises two T20Is and three ODIs. They have already named their squads for both tours, with Kevin O’Brien left out and David Ripley taking temporary charge as interim head coach.
    Ireland last toured the Caribbean in 2020, drawing the T20I series 1-1 and losing the ODI series 3-0. Sabina Park was also the venue for one of the finest moments in Irish cricketing history, their victory over Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup on St Patrick’s Day.

    “We are pleased to be returning to the Caribbean where we have so many great memories,” Richard Holdsworth, Cricket Ireland’s performance director, said. “The World Cup Super League is a crucial set of fixtures for Ireland as we attempt to qualify for the next Cricket World Cup, and – if the series in 2020 is anything to go by – we look forward to a highly competitive series in January.”

    Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98



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    Bangladesh tour of NZ BCB approves Shakib Al Hasan’s request to skip New Zealand tour

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    Nazmul Hassan says BCB has no problem with players wanting a break, but says it should happen via official channels

    BCB president Nazmul Hassan said on Monday that the board has accepted Shakib Al Hasan‘s leave request to skip the New Zealand tour for which Bangladesh are scheduled to leave later this week. Some days ago, Hassan claimed that Shakib only informed them “unofficially” of his reluctance to be on the tour, and hours later, Shakib reportedly had requested the board by handing over a letter officially.

    “We have accepted his request,” Hassan said. “We have been saying this for a long time that we have no objection if a player wants to take a break or rest, but it has to be informed officially. The thing is, we want to be informed about such a decision in advance as it is difficult for us if it is informed suddenly. From January, if anyone wants a break, he has to inform us in advance so that we can prepare alternatives.”

    This is the third time in 2021 that Shakib has skipped a tour for Bangladesh. He opted out of the white-ball tour of New Zealand in March due to paternity leave before missing the two Tests against Sri Lanka in April to play in the IPL.

    Hassan felt Shakib should have asked for the leave officially, rather than informing them verbally.

    “This [the confusion] is not embarrassing, to be honest. We simply didn’t know about it, officially,” Hassan said. “The thing is, these things have always happened unofficially. Now, to avoid confusion, we are emphasising that these matters should be official.”

    Bangladesh’s tour of New Zealand includes two Tests, part of the World Test Championship, beginning on New Year’s Day. The team will leave on December 9 to complete quarantine and then play practice matches.



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