Major upset as the defending champs were crushed by 69 runs
Afghanistan stunned a humiliated England in Delhi with one of the greatest upsets in Cricket World Cup history.
Although the relative underdogs had only ever triumphed once in 50-over World Cups—against Scotland in 2015—and had lost all nine of their group stage matches four years prior, they were as good as the defending champions in their 69-run victory, which is undoubtedly the most famous in their cricketing history.
After losing to New Zealand in their initial match, England looked to have turned things around with their victory over Bangladesh on Tuesday. However, they still have a difficult challenge ahead of them if they want to make it to the semi-finals. Though it is still possible, with six games remaining, that Jos Buttler’s team might improve and make it to the last four, the team’s chances of winning the championship seem unlikely given their current performance.
Questions about the potency of England’s seam bowling attack were dispelled once more as Rahmanullah Gurbaz led a blistering opening stand, scoring 80 runs off of 57 balls, which was largely composed of a century.
On a ground where India had earlier in the week chased a similar target in just 35 overs against the same opposition, England’s response was cautious, as they lost the crucial wickets of Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root inside the powerplay and too soon withdrew into their shell.
The exception was Harry Brook, who made 66 off 61 balls to keep the chase going. However, after being caught for three wickets by the brilliant Mujeeb Ur Rahman, only two wickets remained at the tail end of the innings, leaving 116 runs needed. Appropriately, Rashid Khan, the international celebrity and icon of Afghanistan, was the one who captured them both.
This kind of outcome has long been threatened by Afghanistan, who usually struggle to match the top teams’ batting resources while fielding a more complete team each time they appear in a major tournament.
Before this World Cup, there was cause for optimism due to the rise of 21-year-old openers Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran. Gurbaz gave us a reason to believe so with a truly impressive innings against the new ball.
After three overs that cost 31 runs, Chris Woakes was removed from the attack due to his troublingly loose play at the top of the order. Sam Curran, who replaced him, did not fare any better. In his two powerplay overs, Gurbaz hit three straight boundaries through drives, flicks, and pulls, scoring 26 runs in total. Afghanistan eventually reached drinks on 106 without losing a wicket.
Reece Topley, who was very tight during the powerplay, appeared to have made things worse when he hobbled off after injuring his knee on the field. Fortunately, the quick bowler was able to resume bowling later, at which point England’s spinners regained control.
The decisive breakthrough came two overs later, but Adil Rashid was crucial, removing Zadran to split the opening pair en route to his best World Cup statistics of three for forty-two. Afghanistan captain Hashmatullah Shahidi needed to show composure after witnessing Rahmat Shah stump Rashid, but instead, he chased a nonexistent single frantically, leaving the enraged Gurbaz run out by yards.
England squeezed out a full quota of 10 overs from the all-rounder Liam Livingstone, who claimed an impressive one-for-33. Root was also among the wickets and everywhere in the field, taking four catches, including a spectacular diving effort on the boundary to remove the dangerous Rashid Khan.
Aside from Mark Wood, though, England’s seamers were still struggling as Afghanistan’s all-out total off the penultimate ball came within four runs of their highest-ever World Cup score with Ikram Alikhil’s half-century.
Five days before, Afghanistan had not come close to defending a score against India that was only 12 runs smaller, but as they consistently chipped away at the English order, confidence was soon surging through the ranks.
Although Root was dismissed for keeping low due to his curse, Bairstow was incensed that he was thrown out for a ball merely clipping leg-stump. However, England’s dismissals were generally inoffensive, except Brook, who fell while striking just short of a run-a-ball.
The immensity of what was within touching reach only threatened to hinder Afghanistan with Brook’s departure; the last two wickets added a rapid 46 runs. But Rashid persevered to cap off a remarkable and well-earned victory.