The recent match at this venue witnessed India effortlessly chase down 273 against Afghanistan, with 15 overs to spare. The preceding game recorded the highest aggregate score in a Cricket World Cup match, with South Africa scoring 428/5 and Sri Lanka responding with 326.
Despite posting their second-highest World Cup score of 284, thanks to a late-innings rally by Ikram Ali Khil and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, the general opinion was that Afghanistan had fallen short of a competitive score.
Liam Livingstone suggested as much during the innings break, revealing that the team had chosen to bowl first considering the dew factor.
However, in a surprising twist, Afghanistan gradually dismantled England’s renowned batting line-up, dismissing their consistently dependable top three within the first 15 overs.
So, how did Afghanistan achieve this remarkable upset victory?
Breaking the Norm: The Powerplay
After being put into bat, Afghanistan needed to break away from their usual slow starts. To challenge England at a venue known for record-breaking batting performances, they required an above-average total. Rahmanullah Gurbaz set the pace by aggressively attacking the English bowlers early on.
With 79 runs in the first 10 overs and no wickets lost, the initial task was accomplished. It was Afghanistan’s best start in a World Cup match during the first Powerplay.
Although Gurbaz failed to score a century due to an unfortunate runout, the opening stand of 114 had already set the stage.
The Essential Late Surge
Afghanistan is not typically known for scoring big in the death overs. Their strike rate is just over 100 in the death overs since the last Cricket World Cup, one of the lowest among participating teams.
The beginning of the death overs seemed to confirm this, with Afghanistan scoring only 21 runs from overs 41 to 45 and losing power hitter Rashid Khan in the process.
Mujeeb, who has recently shown his batting prowess, turned the tables with a fierce attack on Sam Curran, a bowler Afghanistan had targeted throughout the game. The 46th over yielded 18 runs.
Despite Ali Khil and Mujeeb being dismissed before the end, Afghanistan had managed to put England under pressure, even though they were six wickets down at the 40-over mark.
Early Indications of a Possible Upset
Early signs suggested that a score of 284 might be sufficient for Afghanistan’s spin-heavy attack. England’s spinners had an economy rate of 3.9 compared to 7.3 by the pacers.
However, England’s struggles against spin seemed to be a thing of the past. Dawid Malan, a key player in the batting line-up, is one of the best players of spin, averaging 75.3 and striking at 107.4 since 2022.
Once Malan enters the post-powerplay phase, he is a difficult batter to dismiss. Since 2022, and before this game, Malan had been dismissed only five times while averaging 140.6.
It was crucial for Afghanistan to dismiss Jonny Bairstow early, and Fazal Farooqi did just that by exploiting Bairstow’s weakness against left-arm pace. Joe Root’s wicket was an added bonus in the first 10 overs, but the in-form Malan still needed to be dismissed. It took a delivery of excellent deception from Mohammad Nabi to dismiss Malan.
The off-spinner tossed the ball up nicely and got it to dip to force the error off Malan, with the wicket officially setting off panic alarms in the England camp.
Naveen-ul-Haq’s Masterstroke Against Jos Buttler
Despite England being three down, Afghanistan wasn’t truly in control with the Jos Buttler-led side boasting a long batting line-up. The captain himself was the biggest obstacle between Afghanistan and victory.
It took some clever bowling from Naveen-ul-Haq to dismiss Buttler with a beauty, truly putting Afghanistan in the driver’s seat.
The pacer bowled a maiden over at the captain and then bowled one back into him a few balls later to clean him up. This crucial wicket put England’s batting under immense pressure with Rashid Khan still having a significant number of overs left.
Even with Harry Brook continuing for England, Buttler’s wicket seemed to be the actual turning point that firmly shifted the game in Afghanistan’s favor.
A Historic Victory
Afghanistan ended a 14-match losing streak in the Cricket World Cup. After going winless in the 2019 event, Afghanistan turned the tables against England, using a combination of skill and strategy to defeat the defending champions.
This was the first time England had lost eight wickets to spin in a World Cup match, a downfall masterfully orchestrated by a trio of Afghan spinners at the top of their game.