08 March 2015
Vettori leads New Zealand to fifth straight win
Afghanistan is bowled out for 186 before Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill help seal six-wicket victory
New Zealand's fifth straight win meant it retained its position on top of Pool A.
So, when Mohammad Nabi, the Afghanistan captain, opted to bat after winning the toss against New Zealand on Sunday (March 8), fans feared that the big day wouldn’t last too long.
Revelers who turned up ten minutes’ late had already missed two Afghan wickets. Javed Ahmadi fell lbw to Trent Boult early, but few would have expected Daniel Vettori to take a wicket from the 13th ball of the day.
Entrusting Vettori with the third over was the latest example of Brendon McCullum’s inventiveness, even if this one seemed to owe more to a desire for Boult and Tim Southee to switch ends than any grand plan for the Afghan batsmen.
With his very first ball, Vettori produced a deliciously flighted delivery that advanced through the inviting gap between Usman Ghani’s bat and pad, who played for turn that was lacking.
It is a trick Vettori has pulled many times before. The wonder is how, aged 36 and after two years decimated by his Achilles tendon, Vettori has reinvigorated himself in the World Cup. Such has been the craft with which Vettori has bowled in this tournament that it is easy to forget that he was far from a guaranteed selection. In the ten One-Day Internationals he bowled in after his return from injury in October to the start of the World Cup, Vettori went wicketless in seven.
It mattered not. New Zealand always intended to use Vettori’s cunning and equanimity at the World Cup. He has varied his pace and flight wonderfully in all five games so far, as his figures of 4 for 18 here were testament to.
Like so many others before him, Nawroz Mangal tried to cut a Vettori delivery when he lacked the room to do so. As the ball smeared into his off stump, Vettori became the first New Zealander, and just the 12th bowler ever, to reach 300 ODI wickets. When Nabi and Afsar Zazai fell in consecutive balls thereafter, the latter beguiled by a quicker delivery, Vettori was on a hat-trick, and Afghanistan was 59 for 6.
So it was to Afghanistan’s immense credit that New Zealand’s winning runs did not arrive until a little after six o’clock.
Amid the wreckage of the start of Afghanistan’s innings, Samiullah Shenwari batted with trademark stoicism. At times, it seems like Shenwari is a bit too quiet on the crease, but none of his team-mates have appeared well-versed in crease occupation this tournament. As he showed by smearing Corey Anderson over midwicket for a huge six, Shenwari is not lacking in shots. Regardless, 247 runs so far this tournament, including 54 from 110 balls here, adds up to a deeply admirable effort.
Belatedly, Shenwari found an ally in Najibullah Zadran, whose normal approach rather resembles that of Shenwari in the last ten overs of an innings. Together they put on 86 runs for the seventh wicket, an alliance worthy of far more than condescension: It was second only to Richie Berrington and Matt Machan’s stand among partnerships against New Zealand this tournament, and ensured that Afghanistan reached comfortably more than Australia or England against New Zealand.
If Najibullah largely resembles a baseball slugger, the late cut off Grant Elliott that took him to 50 revealed finesse too. Until he was dismissed, caught at third man attempting to uppercut Adam Milne, Afghanistan will have had designs on reaching 220 rather than the 186 it ended with.
On a ground that is regarded as one of New Zealand’s most batting friendly, it was never likely to prove a challenging score. Especially not with McCullum approaching the target bristling with his usual zeal. His pyrotechnics brought 42 off 19 balls until he inside-edged a pull off Nabi on to his stumps.
With that ended New Zealand’s hopes of a run chase as disdainful as the one against England in Wellington. Perhaps that suited the side well, allowing Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Elliott the opportunity to build the innings at a speed more prosaic than in New Zealand’s batting efforts so far this tournament.
If Afghanistan seemed a little jaded after a marathon return trip from New Zealand to Perth, Nabi’s terrific direct hit to remove Elliott, clattering the stumps from mid-off, was testament to his side’s unwavering spirit. But Nabi would know that his side needs improvements in its top-order batting if it is to best England in Sydney, and leave the tournament with the full member scalp it craves.
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