Sam Curran’s breathtaking five-wicket haul and some spectacular fielding led England to a five-wicket win over Afghanistan in their opening match at the Twenty20 World Cup on Saturday in Perth.
England skipper Jos Buttler won the toss and elected to field, and his seam bowlers did the trick for the team billed as one of the tournament favourites.
Left-arm quick Curran returned figures of 5-10 — the first England bowler to take five wickets in a T20 — to send Afghanistan packing for 112 in 19.4 overs.
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England, who crashed out in the semi-finals at the World Cup last year in the United Arab Emirates, achieved their target in 18.1 overs — but only after the Afghanistan bowlers proved a point by picking five wickets.
England face Ireland next but it’s their mouthwatering clash against old rivals Australia on Friday at Melbourne Cricket Ground which Curran is already thinking about.
“We’ve seen the way they (Ireland) played in the qualifiers, they’re obviously a very dangerous team with some match-winners in there as well,” the 24-year-old told reporters.
“But like you said, there’s no hiding that Friday is going to be a pretty epic game against Australia, at the MCG, which I’m sure will be an incredible experience for all of us.
“And hopefully we can go into that game having won on Wednesday. “And like you said, if we win (on Friday) that will obviously be great for us and I guess might put the Aussies in a tricky position.”
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The bowlers stood out in a low-scoring affair. Mark Wood struck with his first ball in the third over of the innings to get Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who had cracked a six in the previous over, caught behind for 10.
Ibrahim Zadran hit back with a six and two fours but the England fast bowlers largely kept a lid on the scoring for the first six overs of powerplay, when only two fielders are allowed outside the inner circle.
England’s star all-rounder Ben Stokes, who bowled the opening over and returned figures of 2-19, came back to get opener Hazratullah Zazai out, with Liam Livingstone taking a splendid running catch at full stretch in the deep.
Zadran attempted to up the tempo in his run-a-ball knock, which ended with a check shot to backward point off Curran. He made 32.
The series of stunning catches continued with Adil Rashid running backwards to complete an excellent take at deep mid-wicket to send back Najibullah Zadran and give Stokes his second wicket.
Buttler also joined in the catching heroics as he gloved a one-handed catch down the leg side to send opposition skipper Mohammad Nabi trudging back to the pavilion for three.
Wickets kept tumbling as Afghanistan nosedived from 91-4.
Curran picked two on successive balls, including Rashid Khan for a duck, to be on a hat-trick at the end of his third over.
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Usman Ghani played out the hat-trick ball at the start of the 20th over but got out in the next ball as Curran wiped off the tail.
“I think he’s got great character for that role,” Buttler said on Curran’s death bowling.
“He’s thriving with the extra responsibility. He enjoys the tough moments. He demands the ball in those situations, which is a great attitude to have.” In reply, England lost openers Buttler (18) and Alex Hales (19) after a quick start, but Afghanistan’s fielders didn’t take their catches quite like their opponents did. Hales was dropped twice on four and 17.
“I would have liked less dropped catches, less fumbles, less misfields if possible,” Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott said.
“I thought the way we bowled, the spinners were really, really good. And so there is something to take away from the game, but we need a few more extra wins.” Afghanistan kept striking as England lost half their side and Rashid Khan sent back Harry Brook.
Livingstone, unbeaten on 29, got the remaining runs with Moeen Ali, on eight, for company.