14th over: Afghanistan 82-3 (Najbullah 13, Ghani 16) Wood returns to crank it up. The two batters have to make do with nabbing the odd single; Wood doesn’t offer anything loose to throw the bat at.
13th over: Afghanistan 78-3 (Ghani 13, Najibullah 12) Najibullah Zadran is the new batter at the crease and he gets a hold of a tossed-up leg-break – he sends Rashid for a straight six. The left-hander then cuts hard at a googly, running back for a very tight two. He looks like he’s gonna try and give everything a proper wallop.
12th over: Afghanistan 65-3 (Ghani 11, Najibullah 1) Top over from Curran. Afghanistan are struggling to build any sort of momentum here.
Zadran goes! He tries to advance down the track but hasn’t read the Curran cutter – the ball lobs off the bat high into the night sky and Moeen Ali runs back from cover to hold on.
11th over: Afghanistan 62-2 (Zadran 32, Ghani 10) A wicked Rashid googly nearly does for Usman Ghani, but he just about hacks away for a single. A bit too short from Rashid a few moments later, with Ghani swatting away to deep midwicket for a couple. Afghanistan are swinging away for a bit hit – but Rashid doesn’t suffer any real punishment.
10th over: Afghanistan 55-2 (Zadran 29, Ghani 6) A release for Afghanistan as Stokes goes wide and full outside off, with Zadran unfurling a gorgeous drive for four. Stokes goes full again with his next ball, which lets Zadran pick up a couple. We’re halfway through the innings – Afghanistan really need to get moving in the next three or four overs.
9th over: Afghanistan 46-2 (Zadran 19, Ghani 8) Adil Rashid gets his twirl on and concedes just four runs from the over.
8th over: Afghanistan 42-2 (Zadran 18, Ghani 5) Sam Curran sprints in to show off his bag of left-arm tricks. After a neat start – just a single from his first four balls – he goes too straight, allowing Ghani to tickle the ball off the hips for four.
7th over: Afghanistan 37-2 (Zadran 17, Ghani 1) England are in control.
What a catch! This is class from Liam Livingstone.
Stokes goes short and wide, Zadran lets out the cut, but it’s not middled as the ball flies high behind point – Livingstone sprints in from the deep and gets low to hold on.
6th over: Afghanistan 35-1 (Zazai 7, Zadran 16) Woakes gets the outside edge of Zadran but the ball flies out of the reach of the diving Buttler, running away for four. That prompts the skipper to bring in a slip – only for one ball though after Zadran picks up a couple through the leg side.
5th over: Afghanistan 27-1 (Zazai 7, Zadran 10) Zadran uses the pace brilliantly, here: Wood goes short and the right-hander helps the ball over fine-leg for six. Wood, operating in the nineties (mph), bounces back with some thunderbolts past the bat, Zadran unable to lay anything on them.
4th over: Afghanistan 20-1 (Zazai 6, Zadran 4) Woakes gets four dots in a row before going short and wide, a gift for Zazai who cuts hard for four.
3rd over: Afghanistan 15-1 (Zazai 1, Zadran 4) Wood goes too full with his fourth ball, and Zadran leans in to drive through the covers for four. Otherwise, it’s just dots from the over. Fast, electric and eternally watchable – Mark Wood has arrived at this World Cup.
Mark Wood strikes with his first ball of the tournament! It’s rapid, the perfect length, and gets the edge of Gurbaz. Buttler does the rest. Gorgeous bowling.
2nd over: Afghanistan 11-0 (Gurbaz 10, Zazai 1) Woakes runs in from the other end and grabs an edge off Gurbaz with his second ball – but the shot has control, the ball staying low on its way to third man as he grabs two. And then a stunning stroke: Gurbaz moves across the stumps, gets down and whips Woakes for six over the fine-leg boundary.
1st over: Afghanistan 2-0 (Gurbaz 1, Zazai 1) Stokes takes the new ball and begins with a dot before Zazai clips to the leg-side for a single. The right-hander Gurbaz blocks one before playing and missing outside off. Another play-and-miss follows as Gurbaz goes down the track for a big swing. A single closes out the over – tidy start from England.
We’ve heard the anthems. Ben Stokes has the ball. Let’s go!
Right then, we’re about 10 minutes away from getting this show on the road. Time for this tune from last year’s tournament to get me in the mood:
England: Jos Buttler, Alex Hales, Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes, Harry Brook, Moeen Ali, Liam Livingstone, Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Mark Wood
Afghanistan: Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Ibrahim Zadran, Najibullah Zadran, Usman Ghani, Mohammad Nabi, Azmatullah Omarzai, Rashid Khan, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Farid Malik
“We just feel like we’d like a chase.” Jos Buttler wins the toss and his men will start with the ball. Willey, Jordan, Salt and Mills miss out for England. They’re going in with seven batters.
In Sydney, New Zealand have thumped hosts and defending champions Australia by 89 runs. What a result that is.
They were an over away from winning the whole thing in 2016. In 2021, things were looking good in the semi-final until Jimmy Neesham went big and Daryl Mitchell held his nerve. England have looked the part in this tournament since their 2015 white-ball rejig – but on both occasions they’ve fallen just short, missing that little something special at the backend to seal the deal. Third-time lucky?
The case for going all the way this year is a strong one. After a difficult summer, they made a historic trip over to Pakistan and finished with two dominant displays to take the series 4-3. With a fully-fit Jos Buttler back at the helm, they kicked off this tour of Australia with a 2-0 win earlier this month. There’s a silly amount of power in that batting line-up, Mark Wood’s bowling rockets and, while the Ben Stokes situation is slightly awkward, he brings that extra stardust. England fans, you’re allowed to dream.
But this’ll be a tricky first task. Afghanistan have Rashid Khan, arguably the best T20 cricketer on the planet. Then there are the wily tricks of Mujeeb Ur Rahman to contend with too. Whatever happens, this is gonna be good fun. I’ll be back later with the toss. Drop into my DMs whenever you fancy.