The inevitable happened. Despite their supreme spunk, the swagger went out of Afghanistan on Friday night. Call it the tag of defending champions or that the pitch had just a little more bounce in it, but England were on the money.
They pressed home their advantage, so much so that it wouldn’t be a wonder if some tears were shed in the Afghan dressing room over that 26 for eight performance.
That is the very basic implication of bullying. The strong guy comes in, all ready to flex his muscles and the minnow has nowhere to run. As it is, the outfield at Premadasa Stadium doesn’t allow you to do much running anyway. Awkward bounce doesn't help anybody and surely not a side that simply cannot hold its catches. English dominance was anticipated, but not to the agonising heights it reached - and that is putting it literally.
When Nawroz Mangal walked out for the toss, Stuart Broad towered over him. He isn't even the tallest English cricketer around. That honour goes to Steve Finn. Along with Jade Dernbach, they formed a trio of giants bowling to dwarves on a strip that hadn't witnessed a game already. There was no way Afghanistan would have come out of this alive.
The writing was on the wall earlier though. Luke Wright, with that chanceless unbeaten 99, in all probability has dashed any hopes Ravi Bopara had of playing a match in this tournament. It was quite some assault on a hapless bowling attack which had no support in terms of fielding, especially if you consider they were 84 for two after twelve overs.
When Wright and Eoin Morgan were batting, there was a little period during which the Afghan slow bowlers had applied the brakes - relatively speaking. One says relatively because the next eight overs brought about 112 runs. A simmering example of the 2010 champions' hitting prowess, and that too in the absence of one Kevin Pietersen.
Say what you will about their eventual defeat though, none can dare accuse this Afghan side of not trying to upset the apple cart. Their best chance was to bowl first and cause a few early ripples. They did this bit with some excellence against India and that’s when it fell apart.
To replicate it against England meant miraculously holding any catches that might come their way. Sadly enough that point came and breezed past them in a flash.
Shapoor Zadran is the quintessential Pathan fast bowler. Tall, well built, he even has a flowing mane to add for effect. A wicket maiden was enough to cause some minor hiccups among all English fans gathered around for some fun. Yes, he didn't really outfox Craig Keiswetter, but beggars are not choosers - bowled while playing on made Shapoor's point.
From the other end, on came Dawlat Zadran. There doesn’t seem to be any relation between the two bowlers except sharing a common surname. For Dawlat, unlike Shapoor, isn’t that tall. He has short hair, and doesn’t excite you much, almost like an Indian medium-pacer; but they do have their moments and he certainly did.
For the first four overs, the English batsmen pushed and prodded, adding only 15 runs. You could say they were just a bit nervy, trying not to lose too many early wickets and inflicting pressure on themselves. They were just biding their time or as in proper cricket lingo, drawing from experience.
That last word is missing from Afghanistan’s dictionary, and it showed up late in the India match. This time it showed up as early as the fifth over. Shapoor's first ball flew away for four byes and he tried adjusting his length a little, losing all control.
Alex Hales took two fours off the next two balls and then began a display of classic batting. Wright smacked a four and a six, both down the ground, following it up with another one in the same region a couple of overs later. Hales got into the act as well, two more of his next three boundaries coming in the V.
Afghanistan had no reply. They could only post fielders in the deep but they might as well have been goal posts for the English batsmen to target. Shapoor's fifth over that was carted for 23 runs inflicted a crushing blow, in that the fight went out of the Afghan attack. They began pitching fuller and it became easy meat for more boundaries. Perhaps they needed another dose of inspiration, say in their premier bowler Hamid Hassan.
He didn't play the previous match either but they missed him more in this match. Later when the ball started flying, and no catches would stick, you could almost see the Afghans being sucker-punched, without mercy.
David beat Goliath once upon a time, yes, but that’s just one story.
© Cricket World 2012
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