New Zealand 188 for 4 (Guptill 57, McCullum 42) beat Afghanistan 186 (Najibullah 56, Shenwari 54, Vettori 4-18, Boult 3-34) by six wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
A target of 187 was not going to be taxing, and it provided opportunity for Martin Guptill to find some touch. A 76-ball 57 included some forceful punches off the back foot and handsome lofts down the ground - both trademarks of the batsman when in full flow. Ross Taylor and Grant Elliott, members of a middle order that had not done much in the tournament so far, too made the most of their time in the middle as the hosts won with 83 balls to spare.
Afghanistan's bowlers were easily handled, especially after Brendon McCullum took the score to 53 in the fifth over, but New Zealand's were a different story. Trent Boult and Tim Southee had the new ball on a string. As usual. Adam Milne racked his pace up to 150 kph three balls in. Nothing new there. McCullum employed seven catching men when Vettori was on a hat-trick. Yawn. New Zealand have been so intimidating on the field in the World Cup so far that you expected all of that. Afghanistan, having traversed 10,000 kms in the last week, walloped by Australia in Perth and barely surviving a cliff-hanger with Scotland in Dunedin, appeared tired and outclassed.
At least until Najibullah Zadran and Samiullah Shenwari used their nervous energy to get a few big hits away and created some breathing space. They came together at 59 for 6 in the 20th over, waited for the swing to fade away, Vettori's spell to end and the fifth bowler Corey Anderson, to push New Zealand into bowling the most overs they have in an innings in this World Cup.
The seventh wicket added 86 runs as Najibullah made a run-a-ball half-century, including a six off Southee that landed on the roof, and Shenwari batted through a nasty blow that left a visible dent on the back of his helmet to make a hard-working 54 off 110. Their application should please Afghanistan as much as the lack of it from the others should displease them.
Vettori's first wicket was a happy accident, although it came off the first ball he bowled. He was sneaked into the attack in the third over to allow Southee and Boult to switch ends and the bonus was Usman Ghani playing down the wrong line to lose his off stump. The delivery, though, was a beauty. Tossed up, drifting with the arm and skidding between bat and pad.
But McCullum preferred pace with the new ball. This time Southee and Boult were bowling at the ends that assisted their respective away swingers. Boult heightened his threat by coming round the wicket and his captain encouraged the search for the outside edge by providing two slips and two gullies. But Asghar Stanikzai would feel disappointed that he fell into that trap off a short ball that should have been hammered over Martin Guptill, and not half-heartedly guided into his hands.
Vettori returned in the 12th over and squeezed Afghanistan further, not that 35 for 3 needed much work. It was a used pitch at McLean Park. It was dry and expected to play slower than usual. But it didn't have much turn. Vettori isn't the kind of bowler who gets the ball to hoop around corners anyway. But Afghanistan's inexperience meant they kept playing for the ball moving away and were consistently found out. As Nawroz Mangal showed when he was bowled trying to cut an arm ball on off stump.
Vettori was nagging, his line barely drifting too far from the stumps, although his pace did flit about between the 80 and the 90kph marks. He dismissed Mohammad Nabi, who was playing his 50th ODI, and Afsar Zazai in successive deliveries to cap off a spell that read 10-4-18-4. It was the first time he's claimed a four-for since June 2009.
McCullum the batsman was smash without substance today, but McCullum the captain might think that a positive - if only in private - considering the middle order got some match practice ahead of the quarter-finals.