World Cup 2023

Afghanistan stun England in a World Cup upset for the ages

Afghanistan vs England: Rashid, Mujeeb and Nabi shared 8 wickets to pull off only their second win in the World Cup, while handing the holders their second loss in 3 games in New Delhi

The last time England faced Afghanistan at the ODI World Cup, Eoin Morgan smashed a world record 17 sixes.

The last time England faced Afghanistan at the ODI World Cup, Rashid Khan recorded the most expensive bowling returns in Cup history (0/110 in 9 overs).

The last time England faced Afghanistan at the ODI World Cup, they won by 150 runs and went on to win the tournament.

However, you can scratch all that out because the next time someone mentions the last time England faced Afghanistan at the ODI World Cup, the Afghans can talk about a stunning 69-run victory that will go down in history as one of the great upsets in the tournament.

It can take its rightful place among other legendary wins – Ireland over Pakistan in 2007, Kenya over Sri Lanka in 2003, Zimbabwe against Australia in 1983, Kenya versus West Indies in 1996, Ireland versus England in 2011, and the biggest of them all, India over West Indies in the 1983 final. No one saw this coming, just as no one saw them coming.

Afghanistan’s big challenge has always been to get enough runs on the board and when they were put in to bat first, it seemed like a familiar failing would surface again. Despite a 114-run opening stand, Hashmatullah Shahidi’s team stumbled to 190/6. The heads were shaking, the crowd was looking bored and England were strutting around on the field. Things were well under control.

That is when Ikram Alikhil, the Afghanistan wicket-keeper, played an innings of rare quality. His 58 off 66 balls helped turn the innings around with support from Rashid Khan (23 off 22) and Mujeeb Ur Rahman (28 off 16). It pushed the total into a competitive zone.

England, though, still didn’t look worried. Sides around the world have tried to ape England’s approach of filling their sides with batters. Surely, they had enough depth.

This is perhaps where the experience of their coach Jonathan Trott and their mentor Ajay Jadeja helped. Former England batter Trott’s knowledge of the current team and Jadeja’s knowledge of local conditions would have helped them come up with the perfect gameplan.

“It’s good because he has a lot of experience of playing international cricket,” Shahidi had said a few days back while talking about Jadeja’s role. “And he has experience of Indian conditions. As a mentor, he always talks about how to deal with pressure, how to play against these teams… He has come in to give us talks about mental strength and how to deal with pressure and against these oppositions.”

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But a plan is still just a plan. You can talk up a storm but if you can’t come out and walk the talk, then a plan is just words, nothing more.

On Sunday, it all clicked into place. Fazalhaq Farooqi got the first blow by sending back Jonny Bairstow. Mujeeb dismissed Joe Root with one that perhaps kept a little low and then Nabi sent the in-form Dawid Malan (32) back. The wickets had come at the right time. Just enough to prevent the shoulders from dropping; just enough to keep England on the edge, and just enough to get some murmurs of an upset going.

But most still believed England had too much batting depth. However, one after another the wickets kept piling up. Naveen-ul-Haq, whose presence on the field was still eliciting chants of “Kohli, Kohli” from the crowd, silenced them all with a superb inswinger that bowled Jos Buttler.

Harry Brook battled on to score 66 but no one else got going as the Afghan spinners ran rampant. Mujeeb (3/51), Mohammad Nabi (2/16) and Rashid (3/37) combined to decimate the defending champions in some style. Their combined haul of eight wickets is the most taken by Afghan spinners in a World Cup innings.

They attacked the stumps, made use of the indifferent bounce and the dew did not come in as expected. This was smart bowling by a team that didn’t overplay their hand. Under pressure, England succumbed to poor judgement and even poorer execution.

“The belief is there, the trust is there and the talent is also there,” said Shahidi after the game. “Last couple of games, we did not finish well. Looking forward to the rest of the tournament. Hopefully we can be positive. This was the first win for us (since 2015 in the World Cup) but not the last one.”

For England, though, this will hurt and for now, the plan seems to be to let the pain linger.

“You got to let these defeats hurt,” said Buttler. “Let it hurt, try to figure out where we need to get better. Lots of resilience in the group, lots of characters who have been through some good times and through some tough times.”

The World Cup is far from over but the path to the final has become that little bit more difficult for England. For Afghanistan, though, the journey might just be beginning.

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