Defending champion Australia – despite playing at home, with all the support from the fans – has failed to make the most of the known conditions and is precariously close to missing out on a semifinals spot at the T20 World Cup.
In a tricky Group 1, an early defeat to New Zealand, followed by a washout against England has left its qualification dreams with a lot of ifs and buts.
Australia must beat Afghanistan by a big margin at the Adelaide Oval on Friday and pin its hopes on Sri Lanka beating England in Sydney on Saturday. England, with a better Net Run Rate (+0.547), is better-placed to reach the semis and knock its old rival out.
In its last outing against Ireland, Australia had to win by at least 70 runs to take its NRR over that of England. But stiff Irish resistance, led by Lorcan Tucker (71), ensured that the margin of victory for the Aussies was reduced to 42. Things got worse for Aaron Finch’s team as England defeated New Zealand the following day to stay firm on the points table.
Australia knows that Afghanistan could be a tricky opponent – with world-class spinners Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman in its ranks – and skipper Finch and Tim David are doubtful starters after pulling their hamstrings during the last game. On the eve of the make-or-break contest, Finch indicated that the team management is yet to take a final call on their participation.
Finch struck a half-century against Ireland, but his opening partner David Warner’s indifferent form has been an area of concern. In the last three innings, the Australian batting ace has scored just 11 runs.
Over the course of the tournament, the middle-order has rescued Australia time and again with Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis stepping up when needed.
In Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, the Aussies have enough pace power to rattle the Afghan batting.
Afghanistan is already out of the knockouts race after two defeats and two washouts. The tournament has been quite disappointing for the team in almost every department. The middle-order choked in crunch times and the much-admired Rashid-Mujeeb spin attack was nullified by England and Sri Lanka’s batters in the previous outings, while the fast bowling suffered because of inexperience.
However, with nothing to lose, Afghanistan wants to play fearless cricket against Australia, possibly trying to spoil the latter’s hopes of defending the title. Rashid, who ‘jarred’ his knee in the previous match against Sri Lanka, has recovered and will be available for selection, the team’s assistant coach Raees Ahmadzai confirmed.
As the weather improves, the stage is set for an exciting game of cricket at the Adelaide Oval.