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Match Analysis

Questions about England's bowling? Wood, Curran and Stokes have some answers

England selected only four frontline bowlers against Afghanistan, and it paid dividends in helpful conditions

On the vast expanses of Perth's Optus Stadium, boasting the same dimensions as the MCG, England had a plan.
They doubled down knowing the drop-in pitch replicates the famed bounce and pace from the nearby WACA, which has undone numerous batting line-ups over the years, as England can well attest.
With seamer Chris Woakes overcoming a stiff quad, England selected only four frontline bowlers and the gamble paid dividends as their quicks expertly utilised the helpful conditions and were backed by spectacular catching in an almost flawless fielding performance.
After winning the toss, captain Jos Buttler decided to bowl first even though England have had more success batting first recently, including in their near-clean sweep of Australia earlier in the month when they were sent in each match. They well knew also that Afghanistan preferred to bat first, being proficient at defending totals.
But, as the dust settled after Australia's tame defeat to New Zealand, England wanted to make a statement with their fired-up quicks against Afghanistan, whose batting order traditionally struggles against short-pitched bowling. This was also a major initiation in foreign conditions for them.
Afghanistan had never played a T20I in Australia before.
They braced for a barrage from Mark Wood, who had run through Australia's batting on the same ground two weeks ago. But openers Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz had to first deal with Ben Stokes, who opened the bowling and found notable swing.
Since arriving in Australia earlier in the month, Buttler has publicly expressed his desire for a greater role for Stokes and that has manifested in his promotion to No. 4 and opening the bowling. Previously, Stokes had been used towards the end of the powerplay, but getting him on early utilises his strength of finding swing while providing more options for Buttler in the end overs.
"He [Buttler] isn't so much worried about runs... he wants me to get people out. Bowl accurately but know the right time to bowl a delivery that might get hit for four or six but might get a wicket"
Mark Wood
After Woakes bowled the second, showing no ill-effects of any ailments, the fireworks started with the introduction of Wood. With around 35 steps to the top of his mark, turning around in the middle of the sponsor's logo, Wood's long run-up only heightened the sense of anticipation.
Gurbaz, who had hit an outrageous slog sweep for six against Woakes, didn't have time to blink as he feathered through to the wicketkeeper Wood's perfect length delivery clocked at 146kph/91mph.
Wood then welcomed Ibrahim Zadran with a fierce 150kph/93mph back-of-a-length brute to light up a mostly empty 60,000-seater stadium, where only 8500 people attended.
He followed that up with a bumper, which Ibrahim countered with a hooked six, but Wood was unperturbed as he conjured the most sustained hostile spell seen in T20Is.
Wood didn't bother with slower deliveries, bowling in excess of 140kph/87mph in each of his 24 deliveries. His fastest was clocked at 154kph/96mph and he had an average speed of 149kph/93mph.
On a pitch tailor-made for him, Wood clearly took heed of a pointed message drummed into him by Buttler.
"[Buttler has said] try to get wickets and be aggressive," Wood told Sky Sports after the match, pretty much echoing what he had said a few days ago. "Big boundaries here, quick pitch. He [Buttler] isn't so much worried about runs... he wants me to get people out. Bowl accurately but know the right time to bowl a delivery that might get hit for four or six but might get a wicket."
While Wood was electric, Sam Curran cemented his role as the attack's best death bowler after claiming England's first five-wicket haul in a T20I, including four wickets in six balls to tear through Afghanistan's lower order.
In his World Cup debut, Curran continued his excellent form from the Australia series, where he excelled with a canny mix of full and short deliveries. He again bowled a slew of accurate yorkers to prove his calmness late and round out a most impressive performance from an attack with question marks heading into the tournament, exacerbated by the loss of versatile quick Reece Topley.
"We used the surface to our advantage," Curran said in the press conference. "I'm just trying to be as adaptable as possible and giving the bowling group loads of different options.
"I feel I have had a consistent run in the side, which has given me confidence as well. It's a great bowling group and we're all very different.
"We can all take confidence in that performance today."

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth