Old Trafford: England 397 for 6 (Morgan 148, Bairstow 90, Naib 3-68) beat Afghanistan247 for 8 (Shahidi 76, Archer 3-52) by 150 runs. That England decimated another attack, posted a massive total and batted their opponents out of the game is only surprising to someone who hasn’t followed Eoin Morgan‘s side over the past four years.
But even for avid enthusiasts of the 50-over game, the brutality of Tuesday’s assault, led by the England captain himself, was so gruesome one might have been forgiven for wanting to look away by the end of the first innings. England blitzed their way to 397, 198 scored in the final 15, 148 smashed by Morgan in 16 overs he was at the crease. Afghanistan were reduced to batting out the overs, which, admirably though they did so, still meant they came up short by 150 runs in the end.
Most sixes by an ODI player for Morgan (17) – most sixes by an ODI team (25), highest score for England at a World Cup (397), most expensive bowling figures at a World Cup for Rashid Khan (9-0-110-0) and the most sixes conceded by an individual bowler (Rashid Khan with 11). Morgan took the attack to Afghanistan almost as soon as he walked in to bat; the platform had been set in the first 30 overs by Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root, and the only thing they lacked was the impetus required to push a 300-score into something far more daunting.
Fair to say that was achieved, then. With Morgan hitting just about every fourth ball of his innings for six – 17 were deposited over the rope in 71 balls – Afghanistan were up against a man who had prepared for an innings like this by nursing for four years. Rashid Khan, who Gulbadin Naib had held back for this stage of the innings, had the heaviest punishment inflicted upon him, seeing the ball fly to the fence no fewer than 11 times. He conceded 74 in his last four overs, and 110 overall, with Afghanistan paying the price of failing to take early wickets. With the Morgan given the freedom of Old Trafford in the final 20, carnage was always possible.
Prior to the bloodbath, however, England had been curiously sedate, as if wary of finding themselves turned over on a day they couldn’t quite field their best eleven. Jason Roy had been ruled out with a hamstring injury, and (ridiculous as it sounds now) Morgan’s availability wasn’t quite a guarantee, still not fully recovered from the back injury that had kept him from batting against West Indies.
The first Powerplay saw England score 46 runs – the lowest since the 2015 World Cup – with Mujeeb ur Rehman keeping things tight at one end and Dawlat Zadran removing James Vince after the batsman had played a characteristically charming cameo.
Bairstow and Root, who ended up with an anonymous 88 in the larger context, began to push through the gears, but it still wasn’t the no-consequences cricket England have championed in the past four years. They were holding something back, you sensed, but when Morgan walked in after Bairstow fell 10 runs short of his hundred, the hosts were finally free.What could Gulbadin Naib know of the beast he unleashed when he overstepped second ball of the 32nd over. It seemed like just another sloppy error – it wasn’t like Afghanistan hadn’t made plenty of those in the field anyway. Catches had been put down, ones had been allowed to turn into twos and balls had been dived over. But that no-ball meant Morgan would have a free-hit off the eighth ball he faced – he had scored just one off seven till then. He clubbed it over cow corner for six, and then treated every ball that followed as if it were a free-hit.
This may be Afghanistan’s heaviest defeat in the tournament, but there was much to admire about how they went about their innings. Fully aware they wouldn’t chase it down, they opted not to address the target at all, instead putting together a fine ODI innings in its own right, the type they’ve lacked in the tournament thus far. It’s been a competition marked by unrest, infighting, accusations and recriminations, but this is the Afghanistan fans were hoping would turn up all tournament. It was more representative of the Afghanistan of 2019; what we’ve seen much too often at this World Cup thus far is the lazy, uninformed caricature.
Naib, surprisingly opening the batting alongside Noor Ali Zadran, strung together a breezy little innings of 37 that meant, somewhat amusingly, that Afghanistan had outscored England in the first Powerplay. While these were small victories, they’d be the biggest Afghanistan were likely to enjoy; England’s bowlers are much too good to allow the type of carnage that was required for Afghanistan to get anywhere near what England had posted.
Hashmatullah Shahidi, as is his wont, took charge of the middle overs, preventing things from falling apart while building partnerships with Rahmat Shah and Asghar Afghan, the occasional acceleration giving off the impression they would tee off from time to time, but never quite managing to do so. Jofra Archer and Mark Wood kept Afghanistan on their toes with express pace, and a couple of damaged helmets had the scars to prove it. Ultimately, however, the scarring belonged to the bowlers who had fronted up to an England captain in the sort of form most cricketers are happy to find themselves in once in a lifetime.
That they ended up with 247, the highest score by an Afghanistan side at a World Cup, will be scant consolation as their tournament begins to draw to a close. England’s, on the other hand, may only just have begun.