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How Afghanistan pulled off one of the greatest World Cup upsets in history

How Afghanistan pulled off one of the greatest World Cup upsets in history

Afghanistan stunned defending champions England in Delhi, causing the first major upset of the 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup.
The previous match at this venue saw India chase down 273 against Afghanistan with 15 overs to spare. The previous game featured the highest aggregate score in a Cricket World Cup match, with South Africa scoring 428/5 and Sri Lanka responding with 326.

Even with 284, their second-highest World Cup score, on board after a valiant late-innings effort from Ikram Ali Khil and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, the consensus was that Afghanistan had scored too little.

At the innings break, Liam Livingstone hinted as much, saying that the team had decided to bowl first because of the dew factor.

In a stunning turn of events, Afghanistan chipped away at England’s renowned batting order, dismissing their ever-reliable top three before the first 15 overs.

How did Afghanistan pull off this memorable upset victory?

The out-of-character Powerplay

When it came time to bat, the change had to come from the top of the order, where Afghanistan has a history of slow starts.

To push England at a venue that has recently seen record-breaking batting totals, they needed a total above par, and Rahmanullah Gurbaz set the tone early by putting the England attack to the sword.

The first part of the job was completed with 79 runs in the first ten overs and no wickets down. Afghanistan made the best start in a World Cup game in the first Powerplay.

They needed Gurbaz to carry on from there, but the platform had been laid by the opening stand of 114, despite him failing to make a ton after a miserable runout.

A welcome late flourish

Afghanistan, like the Powerplay, isn’t known for going big in the death overs. Afghanistan’s strike rate in death overs has been just over 100 since the end of the previous Cricket World Cup, making it one of the worst among teams competing in this tournament.

 

The Afghans scored just 21 runs from overs 41 to 45, losing power hitter Rashid Khan in the process.

 

Mujeeb, who has recently stepped up with the bat on multiple occasions, turned the tides with a fiery onslaught on Sam Curran, a bowler Afghanistan had targeted throughout the game, with the 46th over yielding 18 runs.

Ali Khil and Mujeeb broke a few more records, but with the two being dismissed before the end, Afghanistan had accomplished less than they would have liked. The key difference this time was that they were able to put England under pressure despite being six down at the 40-over mark.

The warning signs were there from the start.

Early indications suggested that 284 spinners might be enough for this Afghanistan assault. England’s spinners had a 3.9 economy rate compared to the pacers’ 7.3.

However, England’s problems against spin appeared to be over. Dawid Malan, an important cog in the batting machine, is one of the best spinners, averaging 75.3 and striking at 107.4 since 2022.

Malan is also a difficult batter to strike out once he enters the post-powerplay phase. Malan had only been dismissed five times since 2022, and he was averaging 140.6.

Afghanistan needed to see the back of Jonny Bairstow early, which Fazal Farooqi did by exploiting Bairstow’s weakness against left-arm pace. In the first ten overs, Joe Root’s wicket was an added bonus, but there was still the in-form Malan to dismiss, and it took a fantastic deception delivery from Mohammad Nabi to work over Malan.

The off-spinner tossed the ball up nicely and got it to dip, forcing the error off Malan, and the wicket officially set off panic alarms in the England camp.

Naveen-ul-Haq set up Jos Buttler.

Despite having England three down, Afghanistan were not truly in command, with the Jos Buttler-led side boasting a deep batting order. The captain himself was the biggest impediment between Afghanistan and victory.

To truly see Afghanistan ascend to the top, it took some pretty smart bowling from Naveen-ul-Haq to work over Buttler with a beauty.

The pacer struck the skipper with a maiden over and then slanted one back into him a few balls later to clean him up. With Rashid Khan still having a large chunk of overs up his sleeve, the massive wicket put England’s batting under too much pressure.

Even with Harry Brook continuing for England, Buttler’s wicket appeared to be the decisive moment that firmly shifted the balance of the game in Afghanistan’s favor.

A historic victory

Afghanistan ended a 14-game losing streak in the Cricket World Cup. After going winless in the 2019 event, Afghanistan used a combination of skill and smarts to defeat the defending champions.

It was the first time England had lost eight wickets to spin in a World Cup match, a disaster masterminded by a trio of Afghanistan spinners at the top of their game.

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