Match Analysis

Veteran Naib flexes muscles as Afghanistan exorcise ghosts of Mumbai 2023

There was a Maxwell scare, and Cummins also had his moment, but this time Afghanistan would not be denied

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Gulbadin Naib is carried on his shoulders by Afghanistan's bowling coach Hamid Hassan, Afghanistan vs Australia, T20 World Cup, Super Eight, Group 1, Kingstown, June 22, 2024

Gulbadin Naib is carried on his shoulders by Afghanistan's bowling coach Hamid Hassan  •  ICC/Getty Images

The memories of Mumbai. What role would they play? As Glenn Maxwell was finding his stride, depositing Rashid Khan over long-on, when both the spin of the ball and direction of the wind were against him, the "scars" that he had talked of from a game Rashid admitted kept him awake at night, looked like they were there for Afghanistan.
Another six, straight down the ground off Gulbadin Naib, took Maxwell to his fifty and as Naib began his next over, the 15th of the innings, Australia needed 44 from 36 balls with five wickets in hand.


When the third ball of the match from Ashton Agar spun past the bat of Rahmanullah Gurbaz and flew through the vacant slip for four byes, there was a sense of a fascinating contest brewing on a pitch that had been all the talk in the lead-up. After three overs there had been two scoring shots off the bat, one an inside edge by Gurbaz off Josh Hazlewood, and Australia's quicks were also extracting awkward, inconsistent bounce. But Afghanistan's openers played it superbly; they waited and did not panic.
The scoreboard read 11 for 0 off 3.5 overs when Gurbaz launched Pat Cummins straight down the ground for six. The next over from Hazlewood went for 12, including another Gurbaz six, and in the end, the powerplay registered a healthy 40 without loss. The running between the wickets by Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran was superb, something later Rashid singled out.
The century stand, their third of the T20 World Cup 2024 and a new record, came up in the 14th over and their individual fifties followed in consecutive overs. Australia had never waited so long to take a wicket in a T20I when Marcus Stoinis eventually had Gurbaz taken in the deep - that was a rivalry which appeared to have a little bit of feeling.


Australia's poor fielding display against Scotland was put down to a team who knew they were safely in the Super Eight. Saturday's may have cost them a chance of a semi-final.
Agar bowled tidily after being recalled in place of Mitchell Starc to provide another spin option, but he had a day to forget in the field. He let through a boundary at deep square leg, over-ran another at long off, and dropped a difficult, but catchable chance in the penultimate over. He wasn't alone, although none of the chances were sitters.
Adam Zampa can be excused for his flying attempt at deep third when Zadran upper-cut Cummins and a return catch to Stoinis by the same batter wasn't easy. But Matthew Wade could have stumped Gurbaz on 41 and Travis Head reached a running catch that then burst through his hands, although Rashid fell without addition.
Australia were able to finish the innings on a high when Cummins claimed his second hat-trick in three days - he was denied four in four when David Warner spilled another catch in the deep - although a last-ball boundary from Mohammad Nabi took Afghanistan to 149 which always felt competitive. Mitchell Marsh later rated it 20 above par.


In November, at the Wankhede, Naveen-ul-Haq had Head caught behind second ball from around the wicket. In Kingstown on Saturday, it took him one ball more, and he did it all by himself as the stumps were splayed. In that game he then had Marsh lbw after he had cantered to 24 off 11 balls. This time a superb slower ball had the low-on-runs captain lofting a drive to mid-off after a couple of boundaries had suggested things may have turned for him.
Warner, who has been in excellent touch this tournament, was starved of the strike in the powerplay and top-edged a sweep off Nabi. Australia were 32 for 3. It had been something of a surprise to see Afghanistan wait until the sixth over to use spin, it was also a surprise to see left-arm spinner Nangeyalia Kharote, playing his first game of the tournament, bowl the seventh. Fourth ball, Maxwell reverse swept him for four and two deliveries later launched him over deep midwicket for six. Rashid's first over only went for three, but Noor Ahmad's cost 11. In the over before drinks, Maxwell drove Rashid through the covers with calculated precision.


Naib, who had been the eighth bowler handed the ball, all by the 11th over, had already removed the in-form Stoinis with a delivery that climbed off a length and trapped expert-finisher Tim David lbw with a stump-trimmer. But one figure still loomed in front of Afghanistan. Maxwell was on 59 off 39 balls.
Three balls into his third over, Naib claimed one of the most significant wickets of a career which goes back to the very earliest days of Afghanistan's evolution as a cricket nation. As Maxwell so often likes to do he, went to slice the ball through backward point but couldn't keep it down and 19-year-old Noor, who had not been given another over, took a brilliant low catch. Maxwell let out a scream of anguish. Naib roared and flexed his muscles.
Two balls into the next over, Rashid removed the last specialist batter in Wade. But off the last ball of the over, the final one of Rashid's spell, Cummins - the other half of the nightmare in Mumbai - was able to scamper a single from a misfield by Noor. Rashid made his frustrations clear. Maxwell wasn't there, but the tension still was.
Naib, who bowled his four overs straight in what will go down as one of the great T20 spells, put them a step closer when he defeated Cummins with a slower one. On the boundary Afghanistan's bowling consultant Dwayne Bravo, who played 573 T20 matches, lived and breathed every moment. Head coach Jonathan Trott outwardly betrayed few emotions, much like when he batted, barring an occasional wrinkle of his nose.
Naib had one more moment in him, diving full length to his left at cover to remove Agar. Afghanistan were one wicket away. Somehow they managed not to have enough fielders in the ring for the last ball of the 19th over so gave up a no-ball and free hit, but this one wasn't going to slip away.
Two balls into the last over, Zampa swiped Azmatullah Omarzai in the air to long-on where underneath it was Nabi, who like Naib has been there from the start. Australia were the 45th side he has won against in international cricket, and none will have been sweeter. Bravo, with a turn of pace, led the surge onto the outfield in celebration. Naib was given a piggyback off the field.


A defeat to Australia and Afghanistan's ODI World Cup was over. Now a win over Bangladesh could be enough for a semi-final. At the very least, they will know the sums of what they will need to do as they play second, again in St Vincent, after the Australia-India match. Their storied cricket journey has another chapter, and more could yet follow.
"I think I can sleep better now," Rashid a few minutes after the historic moment. "I didn't sleep the whole night [in Mumbai]. I feel like tonight because of the happiness I won't be able to sleep."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo