England defeated Afghanistan by five wickets in their opening Twenty20 World Cup match on Saturday in Perth, thanks to Sam Curran’s stunning five-wicket haul and some spectacular fielding.
England captain Jos Buttler won the toss and chose to field, and his seam bowlers delivered for the team regarded as one of the tournament favourites.
England, who were eliminated in the World Cup semi-finals in the United Arab Emirates last year, reached their target in 18.1 overs – but only after the Afghan bowlers proved their point by picking up five wickets.
The bowlers were noticeable. Mark Wood struck with his first ball in the third over of the innings, catching Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who had hit a six the previous over, for ten runs.
Ibrahim Zadran responded with a six and two fours, but England’s fast bowlers kept the scoring under control for the first six overs of powerplay, when only two fielders are allowed outside the inner circle.
England’s star all-rounder Ben Stokes, who bowled the opening over and returned figures of 2-19, came back to dismiss Hazratullah Zazai, with Liam Livingstone taking a superb running catch in the deep.
In his run-a-ball knock, Zadran attempted to keep up the tempo, which ended with a check shot to backward point off Curran. He got 32.
Adil Rashid ran backwards to complete an excellent take at deep mid-wicket, sending back Najibullah Zadran and giving Stokes his second wicket.
Buttler also contributed to the catching heroics, gloveing a one-handed catch down the leg side to send opposition skipper Mohammad Nabi back to the pavilion for three.
As Afghanistan fell from 91-4, wickets continued to fall.
Curran struck twice in a row, including Rashid Khan for a duck, to complete his hat-trick by the end of his third over.
Usman Ghani played out the hat-trick ball at the start of the 20th over, but was caught off the next ball as Curran wiped off the tail.
In response, England’s openers Buttler (18) and Alex Hales (19) were dropped after a quick start, but Afghanistan’s fielders failed to take their catches. Hales was dropped twice, on four and seventeen.
Afghanistan continued to strike as England lost half their team and Rashid Khan sent Harry Brook back.
Livingstone, who is unbeaten on 29, got the remaining runs with Moeen Ali, who is on eight.