On paper, it looks like a straightforward victory for Australia against Afghanistan, but doubt Australia will be relaxing even a bit ahead of this contest. They have owned this tournament over the past 2 decades, winning 4 out of the 5 editions held since 1999 and they will be looking to make a positive start to this edition.
After stuttering to one series defeat after another for 2 years, Australia suddenly discovered their form in the middle of the Indian series when they turned around a 0-2 deficit to win the series 3-2, that was followed by a 5-0 thrashing of Pakistan in UAE and suddenly they look in great shape for the World Cup.
The squad that beat the 2 sub-continent giants back to back has been further bolstered by the arrival of David Warner and Steve Smith, 2 very talented batsmen with a point to prove to the cricketing world. This will be their first official match since the 12 months ban for ball tampering and both of them will be looking to make up for lost time.
Looking at their bowling attack, Afghanistan batsmen better prepare for some quick, short stuff as the battery of pace bowlers from Australia will be really eager to have a go at them. Starc and Cummins are certain to start but who partners them in attack will be interesting to watch, with skipper Finch having a number of pace options at his disposal. In spin department, Zampa is likely to get the nod ahead of Nathan Lyon, with Maxwell’s part-time off spin as back-up.
For Afghanistan, this is their second World Cup and they will be hoping to put up a better show against Australia than what they did last time. Back in 2015, Australia rode on Warner’s 178 and Smith’s 95 to score 417/5 in 50 overs against Afghanistan, who could only manage 142 in reply, crashing to 275 runs defeat. This time the Afghanistan side looks much more improved, they have greater experience of the big stage, and in Rashid Khan they have one of the best ODI bowlers.
A lot will be expected of Rashid and his fellow spinners Mujeeb and Nabi with the ball, and how Australia deals with this spin attack may well decide the game.
While their bowling has become steadily world class, Afghanistan batting has often been their weaker suit. However, the successful run chase of 263 against Pakistan must have bolstered the confidence of the Afghanistan batsmen. In Shahzad and Zazai, they have a really explosive opening pair and they will be hoping they can set the base for batsmen like Shahidi, Shinwari, Captain Gulbadin and Asghar to build a total. Nabi and Rashid can give it a good whack at the end and can be very useful in accelerating the scoring rate to set up a total or chase one down.
Australia: David Warner – After a bit of a scare, Warner has been declared fit for the opening game. He had an outstanding IPL where he dominated pretty much every bowling attack on the way to winning the Orange Cap. After being out for an year over the ball tampering incident, and having been painted as the main villain of the piece, he will be desperate to go out there and do what he does best, smashing the bowler to all parts.
Afghanistan: Rashid Khan – Currently occupying 3rd spot in the ICC ODI bowling rankings, Rashid Khan is one of the biggest stars in World Cricket in the shorter formats. Keeping a tight leash on the scoring rate, and at the same time picking up wickets, he has become the main weapon for every T20 franchise he plays for. How Gulbadin uses his 10 overs, and how Australia handle him is going to be very interesting to watch. Look out for his big hits with the bat towards the end of the innings as well.
Australia vs Afghanistan in ODIs
Overall: Matches 2, Australia Won 2
World Cup: Matches 1, Australia Won 1
Recent Form (most recent first): Australia W W W W W. Afghanistan W L W NR L
ICC Rankings: Australia (5), Afghanistan (10)