An intense battle awaits when Australia and Afghanistan meet in a tournament-defining fixture at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday.
While a solitary win from its remaining two fixtures will seal a semifinal berth for Australia, Afghanistan, too, stands a chance if it wins the next two outings and betters its Net Run Rate.
In its previous three ODI outings against Australia - including two in World Cups - Afghanistan lost on every occasion. But this time around, three consecutive wins have breathed life into Afghanistan’s campaign, and it would be desperately hoping to continue its momentum. But it won’t be an easy affair.
Australia did not have a memorable beginning to the tournament as it lost its first two games, but thereafter, it regrouped and found form to win five matches on the trot.
Though there are concerns over Steve Smith’s availability after he reported symptoms of vertigo, the five-time champion looks set to be boosted with the likely availability of Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell after they missed out on the game against England. The previous three fixtures at Wankhede have witnessed 350-plus totals by teams batting first, and keeping that in mind, Australia will count on its seasoned opener, David Warner, to fire.
Knowing the conditions like the back of his hand, Warner has amassed 428 runs in seven matches, with two centuries and a fifty, and in a crucial outing, the onus will be on him to guide the team to a big total. Travis Head, with 120 runs in two innings, has shown glimpses of his brilliance, and even if Smith is unavailable, Australia has enough depth.
In Delhi and Chennai, Afghanistan spun out Pakistan and England, making the most of the spin-friendly conditions.
But on a flat deck in Mumbai, spinners have hardly had an impact in the last few games. So, Afghanistan needs to decide whether it plays an extra spinner in Noor Ahmad — along with regulars Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb ur Rahman — or brings in pacer Naveen-ul Haq.
“They (Afghanistan) have won some key moments in games against some good teams, and clearly, their spinners are a big threat,” Smith said. “They are quality bowlers, and they’ve got some batters, particularly at the top of the order, that are taking the game on and can take it away from you…”
The top-three Afghan batters — Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Rahmat Shah and Ibrahim Zadran — have amassed 730 runs in seven outings. Captain Shahidi tops the chart for the side with 282. However, against a quality Australian pace attack led by skipper Cummins, the batters will be put to test.
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