Afghanistan v England, World T20 2016, Group 1, Delhi March 23, 2016

Moeen staves off an England calamity

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England 142 for 7 (Moeen 41*) beat Afghanistan 127 for 9 (Shafiqullah 35*) by 15 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Moeen Ali's wise innings shepherded England to a winning score © Getty Images

The final margin of victory might not show it, but England survived a major scare against Afghanistan to sustain their World T20 hopes.

At 85 for 7 in the 15th over of the match, England were teetering on the brink of a defeat that would have reverberated around the cricket world.

But, through the calm head of Moeen Ali and the broad shoulders of David Willey, England cast off their shackles in the final overs to set a target that proved sufficient on a tricky surface on which batting was never completely straightforward.

Perhaps Afghanistan can feel a little unfortunate. Replays suggested that Moeen was fortunate to survive a leg before appeal off the bowling of Shapoor Zadran in the 18th over when England were 102 for 7. Moeen was on 20 at the time and, with Willey, went on to plunder 35 from the final two overs of the innings.

That Moeen-Willey partnership was crucial. The pair added 57 from the final 33 deliveries of the innings thrashing Amir Hamza for 25 from his final over. His first three overs had cost just 20.

Until then, it had been hard to be certain which side contained the pros who are extended every advantage and which was the side that gained Associate status less than three years ago. With England's panic-stricken batsmen struggling to adjust to a surface far removed from the Mumbai pitch where they made their highest T20I score a few days ago, they seemed to have no idea what constituted a par total. Indeed, it was a surprise they elected to bat first upon winning the toss.

It wasn't that the ball turned especially far for Afghanistan's four spinners. It was that it skidded through and sometimes gripped just enough to plant seeds of doubt. Conditions were not dissimilar to the UAE and England supporters will need little reminder how their batsmen have fared in Test series there.

While James Vince, in the side due to Alex Hales' back injury, had given England a fluent enough start in reaching 42 for 1 in the sixth over, his loss precipitated a collapse that saw them lose five wickets for 15 runs including a spell of three in four balls.

Mohammad Nabi was the unlikely destroyer. After clinging on to a return catch off the leading edge to dismiss Vince, he saw Eoin Morgan - who is in the middle of another fallow patch of form - inexplicably leave a straight one, first ball, which drifted into his off stump.

While Ben Stokes survived a confident leg before appeal from the hat-trick ball, Joe Root was run-out from the next delivery after over-committing to an optimistic single. Nabi, while initially breaking the stumps with his elbow before taking the throw, had the composure to rip a stump from the ground to defeat Root's despairing attempt to recover his ground.

Suddenly England looked petrified. Ben Stokes, losing his balance and his feet as he tried to pull a long-hop out of the ground, was bowled off a bottom edge, Jos Buttler's drive was brilliantly caught at extra cover and Chris Jordan was caught off the leading edge as he tried to turn one into the leg side. Had Moeen been adjudged leg before, England would have been in deep trouble.

But he was reprieved and he made the most of it. Hamza was slog-swept over mid-wicket for six then driven back over his head for four, before Shapoor was lofted over extra-cover for four more. Meanwhile Willey, good enough to open in T20 in domestic cricket, heaved successive sixes over long on off Hamza.

While probably under par, England's final total of 142 was only 20 under the IPL average on this ground.

If Afghanistan were to get close, they probably required a significant contribution from Mohammad Shahzad in reply. But, in the first over of the chase, his attempted heave into the leg side was beaten by Willey inswing and he was struck on the back leg in front of leg stump.

Jordan, bowling at a sharp pace, had Asghar Stanikzai taken at slip off fencing, and Liam Plunkett proved to have too much pace and bounce for a line-up lacking experience against such qualities. Plunkett, preferred to Reece Topley in the England attack, started his World T20 campaign with a maiden and conceded just 12 from his entire spell.

Nabi was lured into a drive to long-on, Rashid Khan was well caught at extra-cover and by the time Najibullah Zadran was run out by Jordan's direct hit - replays suggested his bat was over the line but in the air - and Samiullah Shenwari carved a filthy ball to cover, it became clear it was not to be Afghanistan's day.

While Shafiqullah's late impetus - he thrashed 35 from 20 balls including a magnificent straight six off Jordan to become the highest contributor from No. 9 in this format of international cricket - came too late to save Afghanistan, it may yet condemn England. They required not just victory here, but a victory that significantly improve their net run-rate. A 15-run win does not really provide it.

They will know this was not a convincing performance. Quite apart from their nervous batting, they donated overthrows, misfields and a drop - Buttler failing to cling on to a chance offered by Nabi off Adil Rashid on four - in the field. England will know that more experienced sides will punish them.

That experience is the key ingredient missing for Afghanistan. While they couldn't quite finish the job, they gave one of the Big Three who have made it so hard for them to gain further opportunities a bloody nose. They've proved they deserve their chance.

It is to be hoped that the ECB management who watched this game squirming with discomfort take up their cause in the board meetings that have a disproportional influence on their future advancement.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • 5wombats on March 25, 2016, 20:29 GMT

    DSA what a load of twaddle. Go tell it to someone who might read it.

  • D.S.A on March 25, 2016, 15:03 GMT

    @markbrop: It's been that long? Too short, no? Lol. You'd think the last chance saloon came and went 18 months ago, but with reinforced backing from the higher-ups after he was given control of England's embarrassing World Cup campaign, he'll be there until the media decides to fixate on it (people usually only start to recognise liabilities when they are told so), but the media are busy, ignoring it because "Eng have improved since the World Cup"...yawn...I knew classmates that initially couldn't speak English, and managed to get D's or E's in GCSE English. Was there improvement? For sure. However, is it deemed impressive, in the grand scheme of things? Unfortunately no. An E is still an E, and employers don't care how you got it. Eng's fate is in the hands of South Africa (weird, seeing as Eng beat S.A, but it's due to S.A's NRR), as it is really unlikely that Eng's NRR can be improved enough to beat S.A's, but then if S.A lose, it won't be an issue anyway.

  • D.S.A on March 25, 2016, 15:00 GMT

    Ctd...and early too, so they were neither ahead of the rate, or keeping wickets in hand for the end. That's bad cricket.

    I called it embarrassing as it was sloppy by England. Shafiqullah was pounding runs towards the end, showing up the death bowlers, so Eng should be embarrassed as the 2nd innings, which was their better innings, was not clinical, especially with NRR being a potential tiebreaker in the group, hence I say sloppy. Rough calculations suggest if Eng won by 15 more runs, their NRR would've been +0.276, which is still low, so shouldn't there have been urgency to end the match asap? Afghanistan were 5 down by 8.5 overs, so the chance was there. they were even 9 down by 18.1 overs, and Afg still batted out the overs. There was still an outside chance of losing too. A decent start by Afg, with Shafiqullah at the end, would have had the death bowlers bricking it. Eng, realistically, are relying on an outright points lead to qualify, starting with South Africa losing. P2 of 2.

  • D.S.A on March 25, 2016, 14:58 GMT

    @markbrop: Re: Afghanistan: I think in the longest format (and maybe they only play 4-day cricket against other Associates), Ireland are probably better. My view on Afg is they are decent but haven't got a scalp as they probably haven't played against full-members too often (I think). When Holland beat England (1st time), Afg was probably not that far along, in the Affiliate and Associate chain. Also, I think (though I might be wrong) Afg have displaced the West Indies in next year's Champions Trophy because of their ODI ranking, so while they indeed haven't got a scalp yet, they seem to do o.k in limited-overs despite that, and given that they are posing problems for full-member nations, I genuinely admire their meteoric rise in such a short time that someone like Nabi is still there, playing for them from the start to the present day if I am not mistaken (i.e. Afg's rise within the same generation of players). Not sure why Morgan is complementing them though. Maybe a dig at you guys?

  • D.S.A on March 25, 2016, 3:04 GMT

    @jg2704: Are you therefore advocating switching Roy and Vince, depending on the pitch? If so, a horses-for-courses approach would imply that e.g. more spinners/pace bowlers are picked if conditions dictate, but switching Roy and Vince is not the aforementioned, but rather, it disguises deficiencies in technique, and in general, it seems quite unfair. After all, shouldn't regularly picked internationals, e.g. Roy, have to prove they can score on difficult pitches, or be dropped? Equally, shouldn't Vince have the luxury of a flat pitch that almost every batsman can succeed on?

    Sure, there was a mix of good/bad from Eng/the opposition, but in these 2 cases, I'm leaning towards bad from the opposition as both opponents set up achievable wins (South Africa a ton more than Afghanistan, but Afg still had a good chance at the half-way point). With S.A's bowlers, I think they should've shut it down quickly. I was expecting better from Afg. Plenty of wickets amateurishly lost...tbc. P1 of 2.

  • JG2704 on March 24, 2016, 20:28 GMT

    @D.S.A ON MARCH 24, 2016, 14:38 GMT - Yes - sorry I thought you meant that it was political thing which I didn't know about , but yes Morgan would have been better off citing that Afghanistan are a hugely improved side pointing out their impressive qualification and giving a decent account of themselves in the other games. Even before the tourn began I thought Bangladesh were as likely as some of the main nations to qualify , but I suppose Bangladesh have been mixing it more regularly in white ball cricket in the Asia cup. Afghanistan look to be an emerging nation too

  • markbrop on March 24, 2016, 17:07 GMT

    "There has been a lot of comment about 'yesterday's men' - Wright , Bopara , KP. They have been tried , mostly failed (with some exceptions by KP)"

    Bopara's record is excellent - he averages 28 with the bat and 24 with the ball in T20I. Compare that to Stokes who averages 13 with the bat and 57 with the ball but gets picked on his Test performances. Wright has rarely batted in his proper position. KP's record for England is outstanding in all three formats.

    As for being "yesterday's men" KP has helped 3 teams reach finals this year in the PSL, BBL and SA Ram Slam, all of which are better leagues than the T20 Blast. Wright has helped 2 sides to finals in the PSL and BBL. Bopara was probably the best all round performer in the PSL.

  • LeeJA on March 24, 2016, 16:56 GMT

    A week is a long time in cricket...even without losing lol...as usual people more worried about their egos than what's going on on the field. We've won 2 out of 3 and have put ourselves in a decent position to qualify. If we beat SL we deserve to go through...if we lose we can't count ourselves unlucky, we'd have thrown a good chance away. West Indies need to do us a favour tomorrow so it's solely in our hands.

  • templar51 on March 24, 2016, 16:36 GMT

    There has been a lot of comment about 'yesterday's men' - Wright , Bopara , KP. They have been tried , mostly failed (with some exceptions by KP) and been dispensed with. I know , some people will agree and others disagree but that is the reality. We really need to deal with the 'here and now'. Stokes and Jordan have been severely criticised (rightly so) by several commentators so we now need to consider a way forward without them - if there is one. Reading these pages , it seems there is a consensus growing that Dawson should be brought in. Neither Stokes nor Jordan can claim to have made a contribution with the bat , both take catches but are wayward with the ball ( what a welcome sight it was to see Plunkett bowl). In truth neither of them merit a place. So , the verdict is a toss up.

  • markbrop on March 24, 2016, 16:04 GMT

    DSA: Apparently Morgan has made just one 50 in his last 17 innings for England. He must surely be in the last chance saloon against Sri Lanka (unless England win of course).

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