40th Match, Group 2, Abu Dhabi, November 07, 2021, ICC Men's T20 World Cup
(18.1/20 ov, T:125) 125/2

New Zealand won by 8 wickets (with 11 balls remaining)


NZ look to avoid Afghanistan upset as India subplot looms large

For New Zealand, a victory will send them through; Afghanistan are in with a chance too, but a win for them will likely favour India more

Big picture

Afghanistan might already be one of the most popular choices globally for cricket fans' second-favourite international team, but when they take the field on Sunday, they'll have more supporters rooting for them than ever before. Twitter is already full of India fans with Afghanistan flags next to their usernames. R Ashwin has already joked about India offering the services of their physiotherapist to speed up Mujeeb Ur Rahman's recovery from the injury that's kept him out of Afghanistan's last two games.
But there's a lot more to this game than the India subplot.
New Zealand and Afghanistan are both still in the semi-finals race. New Zealand have the simpler task - win and they're through, no matter what India do later against Namibia. And if they do go through, they'll be on course to complete a hugely impressive set of all-formats results in ICC tournaments - they were ODI World Cup runners-up in 2019, and they clinched the World Test Championship mace earlier this year.
An Afghanistan win is likelier to send India into the semis than themselves, but given how improbable their journey has been in getting as far as they have as a cricketing force, why would you rule out another improbable twist? They certainly have the firepower, with the bat and more so with the ball, to make that happen - particularly if Mujeeb is fit.
But no matter how far they go in this tournament, Afghanistan's players will leave the T20 World Cup bubble - a refuge that is, for them, more than merely bio-secure - and return to realities that most of their counterparts from other nations would scarcely comprehend. These are hugely uncertain times for this brilliant group of players, so whether you're an Afghanistan fan, an India fan, or anyone else, be sure to wish them well.

Form guide

Afghanistan LWLWW (last five completed T20Is, most recent first)
New Zealand WWWLW

In the spotlight

When he hits it right out of the screws - that whipped six off Jasprit Bumrah, for example - he looks like one of the most dangerous powerplay hitters in the world, but Hazratullah Zazai has only lit up this tournament in brief spurts so far, as a strike rate of only 116.88 - his career strike rate is 148.64 - would suggest. Three of the four highest totals of this tournament have come at Abu Dhabi, so if there are runs to be had on Sunday, Zazai could choose no better time to unleash his full repertoire.
Trent Boult has taken eight wickets in this World Cup already, but contrary to expectations, only two have come in the powerplay. Abu Dhabi can offer a bit of early assistance to the seamers, though, and if Boult can get the new ball swinging, he probably offers New Zealand their quickest and most efficient route to victory.

Team news

It's unclear yet if Mujeeb is fit to play, but if he is, he's likely to take the place of the left-arm spinner Sharafuddin Ashraf, who was expensive against India on the same ground.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Hazratullah Zazai, 2 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 3 Rahmanullah Gurbaz, 4 Gulbadin Naib, 5 Najibullah Zadran, 6 Mohammad Nabi (capt), 7 Karim Janat, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Sharafuddin Ashraf/Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 10 Naveen-ul-Haq, 11 Hamid Hassan.
A stinging straight hit from David Wiese struck Ish Sodhi on the head during New Zealand's last match against Namibia, but the legspinner has passed a concussion test and is available for selection on Sunday.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Daryl Mitchell, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Devon Conway (wk), 5 Glenn Phillips, 6 James Neesham, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Adam Milne, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Ish Sodhi, 11 Trent Boult.

Pitch and conditions

Three of the four highest totals of this World Cup have come at Abu Dhabi, but the ground has also produced the lowest powerplay average of the three UAE venues used in this tournament. Expect some early help for the quicks, but also expect the pitch to flatten out as the match progresses. The large boundary sizes could make for some interesting tactical battles, especially if the location of the pitch adds an element of asymmetry.

Stats and trivia

  • Afghanistan have never faced New Zealand in T20Is. They have only met in ODIs so far, at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, with New Zealand winning on both occasions.
  • Apart from Martin Guptill (134.09), all of New Zealand's batters have gone at strike rates of 111 or below against spin during this World Cup. Afghanistan will surely have made note.
  • Quotes

    "They're spearheaded by Rashid Khan, Mujeeb [Ur Rahman] is phenomenal as well and Mohammad Nabi is a very cagey offspinner through the powerplay too. That's definitely where the threat lies with their bowling attack and I'm sure all our batsmen during our scouting meeting have taken that into consideration."
    Ish Sodhi and New Zealand are fully aware of Afghanistan's spin threat
    "We only focus on ourselves, our team. Our main focus is how we qualify for the semi-finals, so we will go with that, and our focus is only on us, so we will try our best to qualify for the semi-finals."
    Afghanistan batter Hashmatullah Shahidi says his team won't be distracted by the India subplot

    Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

    Win Probability
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    Over 19 • NZ 125/2

    New Zealand won by 8 wickets (with 11 balls remaining)
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