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

Moeen staves off an England calamity

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

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