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07 March 201515:57

Afghanistan v New Zealand Preview, Match 31, Napier

Afghanistan faces mighty challenge against red-hot New Zealand side but hopes to bounce back after loss to Australia

Afghanistan v New Zealand Preview, Match 31, Napier - Cricket News

Brendon McCullum has been in electric form, smashing quick-fire half centuries against Sri Lanka, England and Australia.

Played four, won four. That’s how New Zealand and India have fared in the ICC Cricket World Cup so far. Both teams, comfortably perched on top of its respective groups, have sealed a quarter-final berth as well.

But complacency is something one does not associate with this red-hot New Zealand side. When it meets Afghanistan on Sunday (March 8) in Napier, it is expected to field the same XI that defeated Australia in a thrilling encounter in Auckland last week.

Kane Williamson took the side to victory with one wicket to spare after Mitchell Starc’s 6 for 28 triggered nerves in the New Zealand camp in its chase of 152. Trent Boult, who remained unbeaten alongside Williamson, was the wrecker-in-chief in the first innings, bagging 5 for 27 to restrict Australia to its lowest total batting first in a World Cup match.

Unsurprisingly, New Zealand’s bowling attack, with the new-ball pair of Boult and Tim Southee, has been lauded as one of the best in the competition. The duo have been ably supported by the experienced Daniel Vettori, Corey Anderson and Adam Milne.

And the batting has been equally impressive. Brendon McCullum has been in electric form leading up to the World Cup and has carried that into the tournament, smashing quick-fire half centuries against Sri Lanka, England and Australia.

There was a serious injury scare against Australia when a Mitchell Johnson delivery travelling at 147 kmph thudded into McCullum’s unprotected left arm, but medical reports later confirmed he had escaped with just a bruise. With the likes of Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Grant Eliott, Williamson and Anderson in the side, McCullum said his team would manage just fine even if he were to sit out against Afghanistan.

“I'm just thankful that I managed to come through that and I've still got a part to play in this tournament," he said at the pre-match press conference on Saturday. "If the worst had been the case, I still believe we have the squad, the personnel and the leadership within this group that not too much would have changed in terms of how we go about playing the game."

Meanwhile, Afghanistan, playing in their first-ever World Cup, have won over fans from around the world with its passionate brand of cricket. After losing to Bangladesh in its first match of the tournament, it looked on course to pull off a win in its next encounter, reducing Sri Lanka to 51 for 4 after setting it a target of 233 for victory. However, a clinical ton from Mahela Jayawardene turned things around, and Mohammad Nabi’s side went down by four wickets.

But the hungry Afghans fought back in its third match, pulling off a thrilling one-wicket win over Scotland in the last over in Dunedin. Shamiullah Shenwari anchored the 211-run chase despite wickets tumbling regularly at the other end.

The latest game against Australia, however, didn't go according to plan for Afghanistan. A fiery David Warner took the inexperienced attack apart with a 133-ball 178, powering Australia to 417 for 6 – the highest total ever posted in a World Cup match. Afghanistan lost the match by a massive margin of 272 runs, but Afsar Zazai, the wicketkeeper, said the team would fight back against New Zealand.

“I can say that when our team has a bad day, in next game we come back strongly,” he said on the evening of the match. “We will try our best to come back strongly in the next game.”

McLean Park is known to be one of the most favourable grounds for batsmen in New Zealand and no matter how the match pans out, there will surely be plenty for the fans to cheer about.

Teams (likely)
Javed Ahmadi, Nawroz Mangal, Asghar Stanikzai, Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Nabi (capt), Afsar Zazai (wk), Najibullah Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Dawlat Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran.

New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum (capt), Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi (wk), Daniel Vettori, Adam Milne, Tim Southee, Trent Boult.