Matches (14)
WI v BDESH (1)
IND in ENG (1)
IND-W in SL (1)
ENG v IND (1)
Papua New Guinea in Singapore (1)
NAM T20 (1)
Vitality Blast (8)
Match Analysis

England survive macho tussle

Taking on Afghanistan at their own game very nearly cost England, despite Eoin Morgan's claims to the contrary

True to their terrible history against Associate nations in world events, England made torturously hard work of a 15-run victory over Afghanistan in Delhi. And yet, by the end of a gruelling match, Eoin Morgan, England's captain, insisted he had no regrets about taking the scenic route to their goal.
England never expected an easy afternoon against a side whose uninhibited approach had been evocatively likened by Morgan to a "pump-action shotgun". And so, when that easy afternoon duly failed to materialise, Morgan was at least primed for the inquest that followed.
"No, absolutely not," he said, when asked if was worried about a batting performance in which England managed to slump to 59 for 6 at the halfway mark of their innings - including an inept three-wicket stutter in Mohammad Nabi's first over of the match.
"The intent we showed was really good, and I want that to continue," he said. "The application of what skills and what objective we're trying to produce is the most important thing."
In fact, in keeping with England's current aim of finding the positives in every situation, Morgan even went so far as to claim that the collapse was - as those upbeat chroniclers, WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman, might have written in 1066 And All That - "A Good Thing".
"Our starting on typical wickets like these is very difficult," he said. "You almost need mistakes before you actually click your brain into thinking, 'I've got plenty of time here' and actually establish a partnership."
In one sense (and "sense" probably isn't the mot juste) Morgan had a point. The fact that England were in a position to be bailed out by an eighth-wicket partnership of 57 between Moeen Ali and David Willey was a tribute to the fabled depth of their batting line-up. Willey, who had originally been slated to come in at No.11, belted the small matter of a 40-ball century in the NatWest T20 Blast quarter-finals last year.
Besides, as they demonstrated in Mumbai in their opening match of the tournament against West Indies, the only thing worse than losing wickets rapidly in T20 cricket is not losing them at all while chugging along too slowly to set an acceptable total. Morgan, in fact, led by captain's example on that score. "It was an error of judgment," he said of his first-ball duck.
But this was an extraordinarily close-run thing all the same. As South Africa showed at the Wankhede on Sunday, the difference between Afghanistan and the rest of Group 1 has tended to boil down to a single over, or a critical lapse in the field in the case of their defeat against Sri Lanka.
Where AB de Villiers' 29-run over off Rashid Khan had hauled his side into the ascendancy last time out, so Moeen and Willey's range-hitting off Amir Hamza's 19th over did the same here. And even then, Afghanistan responded like the stereotypical horror-movie axe-murderer - presumed dead in the contest after Chris Jordan's apologetic run-out left them nine down in the penultimate over, only for Shafiqullah to smash a four and a six in consecutive balls to send England's fans screaming for the back of the sofa.
The end may have justified the means (just…) but England's attempt to inject a bit of swagger to their campaign was very nearly their undoing, whatever Morgan's claims to the contrary.
In particular, given his stated uncertainty about how the conditions would play out, and given how successfully England had taken to the chase against South Africa. Morgan's decision to bat first seemed perverse - macho, even. Although he sought to justify it with reference to day-game target-setting in the IPL, it felt more like an internal memo of a decision - one designed to shake England out of the torpor that invariably grips them when Associates make all the running in such matches.
"I thought if we had been a bit tentative, it would have gone the wrong way," Morgan said. "We chased down 230 a game ago, but I think it was simply a matter of not adapting [against Afghanistan]. We've been practising similar things that we needed today but we didn't produce."
Unfortunately, Morgan picked the wrong nation to play that trick on. Whatever you may think about Afghanistan's all-round merits as international cricket team, taking their alpha-males on in the macho stakes is a lesson that history tends to warn against. In fact, Chapter 56 of 1066 and All That provides a valuable reference point …
Not even the youngest man on the field was fooled by England's posturing. Rashid, Afghanistan's 17-year-old legspinner, bounced back from his de Villiers beasting with the outstanding figures of 2 for 17 in four overs, and admitted that England's vulnerability had been driving them on all match.
"We have seen more matches of England against Associate members," said Rashid. "As we have seen against Netherlands and Ireland, they lost in World Cups, so we planned, inshallah, that it would happen again. When they lost seven wickets for 53 [sic] we thought it is time for us to beat them as well."
It took a vital and composed innings from Moeen to haul England out of the mire, but it also took Rashid's rather less rose-tinted appraisal to shed proper light on where the match was won and lost.
"He played well, he played according to the situation," Rashid said. "He rotated the strike, he started his innings with singles, and at the end he smashed a few balls out of the park. He played a good innings."
Well, fancy that. Somehow, in the frenzy of another extraordinary T20 contest, the mindsets of England and Afghanistan managed to get themselves muddled. When Sri Lanka arrive for the Group 1 decider on Saturday, England might be better off restoring a measure of calm to their approach. They can leave the warrior spirit to the men who carry it off best.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @miller_cricket