England came into the ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup as one of the favourites to win it, and they have lived up to that billing with four dominant performances en-route to the semi-finals. But Tuesday’s opponents Afghanistan represent a very different challenge for an aggressive England team.
Tuesday 1 February, 09:00 local time, Sir Vivian Richard Stadium
Afghanistan’s progress to the final four has been built on the brilliance of the bowling unit, and more specifically a three-pronged spin attack of Izharulhaq Naveed, Noor Ahmad and Nangeyalia Kharote that has tied all of their opponents in knots on the Caribbean pitches.
It's not just Afghanistan who carry threat with the ball however, and a varied England attack will be hopeful of causing Afghanistan’s batting line-up some problems, with left-armer Joshua Boyden a real wicket-taking option first up.
And with the bat England have shown extreme attacking intent throughout the tournament, arguably more than any of the other 15 sides at the World Cup.
Yet that could offer Afghanistan hope of opportunities for their dangerous bowling unit, and the surprise semi-finalists showed that you can never write them off when they successfully defended 134 against the previously impressive Sri Lanka.
ROUTE TO THE SEMIS
- Group A – Beat Bangladesh by 7 wickets
- Group A – Beat Canada by 106 runs
- Group A – Beat UAE by 189 runs
- Quarter-final – Beat South Africa by 6 wickets
England’s progress to the semi-finals has been about as serene as you can get at an international tournament, with the group stage going precisely to plan right from the opening powerplay against Bangladesh
The opening bowlers reduced the defending World Cup Champions to 8/4 to get England’s campaign off to a perfect start, and they’ve barely looked back, wrapping up the win over Bangladesh with ease before steamrolling Canada and UAE to top Group A.
The last-eight fixture against South Africa represented a sterner test, and they were made to work for the win by Dewald Brevis, whose 97 helped the Proteas to 209 all out in 43.4 overs. But the opening bowlers Joshua Boyden and James Sales were impressive again to restrict the rest of the top order, with 17-year-old leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed picking up a second four-wicket haul of the tournament to do the rest of the damage.
With the bat England have been dominant, with Jacob Bethell’s explosive 88 from 42 balls inspiring a straightforward run chase in that quarter-final, with the winning score of 212/4 reached with still 18.4 overs remaining. Captain Tom Prest is the team’s top scorer so far in the tournament, but runs have flowed throughout the order.
The England captain is thoroughly enjoying his time in the Caribbean, following up a 91 in the warm-up fixture against Papua New Guinea with a 93 against Canada and 154 against UAE during the group stage.
Heading into the final week of the World Cup, only South Africa’s Brevis has scored more runs than Prest’s tournament-tally of 275.
England’s left-arm quick has been a sensation opening the bowling, picking up 12 wickets to-date at an average of just 8.41.
His early inroads have helped put England in dominant positions in all four of their matches at the World Cup so far, but it’s not just the wickets that have made Boyden stand out.
Of the 32 overs he has sent down, seven have been maidens, and no bowler who has bowled as many overs as Boyden at the tournament has a better economy rate than his 3.15.
ROUTE TO THE SEMIS
- Group C – Beat PNG by 135 runs
- Group C – Lost to Pakistan by 24 runs
- Group C – Beat Zimbabwe by 109 runs
- Quarter-final – Beat Sri Lanka by 4 runs
Two hammerings in the group stage helped Afghanistan through to the Super League knockout stage, with both Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe struggling against the quality of the Afghanistan bowling attack.
That spin-heavy bowling attack also had Pakistan in a bit of difficulty in the Group C meeting, but the batters couldn’t quite get the job done as they fell 24 runs short in a chase that flickered but never really got going.
But Afghanistan’s tournament so far is all about that historic quarter-final win over Sri Lanka, which was arguably the game of the World Cup and saw them somehow defend 134 in dramatic circumstances.
Sri Lanka’s chaotic batting helped, but Afghanistan were phenomenal again with the ball and excellent in the field, keeping their spirits up to take the final four wickets for just two runs and seal a spot in the final four.
Afghanistan’s spinners will be key, and none more so than leg-spinner Naveed.
He has played a big role with the ball in all four matches so far, proving far too good for PNG in the opener and recording outstanding figures of 3/14.
And Naveed showed that he can bamboozle higher-level opponents too with 3/41 against Pakistan in a fine spell.
The Afghanistan captain Safi holds the key to a batting line-up that could be vulnerable against England’s top-quality and varied attack.
Safi is comfortably his side’s top-scorer at the tournament so far, hitting an excellent 62 in the opener against PNG and then going bigger against Zimbabwe to seal qualification with 111 off 118 balls.
The semi-final will be held at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound, Antigua, the same ground where England beat South Africa in the last eight.
The venue will also host the final of the tournament on Saturday 5 February.
Built in 2006 to host matches at the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup, the stadium can host up to 10,000 people in normal times, and allows for the biggest crowds of the tournament at this World Cup.
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