By Kieran Wellington
- England must be wary of Afghanistan’s two spinners Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman on a used surface at Old Trafford
- Jason Roy – who scored a magnificent 153 against Bangladesh last week – is out for at least the next two matches with a hamstring tear
- Expect James Vince to slot in at the top of the order, with captain Eoin Morgan also a doubt with a back spasm
OLD TRAFFORD, UK – Complacency must not take over as an injury-hit England face Afghanistan next in the ICC Cricket World Cup.
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Injury plays a part in every major sporting tournament, especially in a format like this year’s World Cup, with each team playing at least nine matches in the space of five weeks. But to have your captain and your in-form opening batsman struck down could be particularly difficult to navigate for any side, even for the favourites.
One could argue the injuries have come at a fairly opportune time for England, with bottom-of-the-table Afghanistan and Sri Lanka to face over the next week, but the hosts must still navigate this bump in the road without losing any momentum gained from an excellent set of victories against Bangladesh and the West Indies, arguably the two best sides outside the favourites.
James Vince will slot in for Jason Roy despite Joe Root’s exemplary century opening the batting in place of Roy in Southampton on Friday – England’s nearly-man must use the next week to finally prove he has what it takes at international level.
If Roy is ruled out past the Australia crunch-match on May 25, England may think of calling up a replacement, with disgraced opener Alex Hales already being mentioned as a potential option.
Old habits die hard
After the West Indies failing to surprise anyone with their bowling attack on Friday – and England doing the same by navigating the pace and bounce with minimal fuss – the hosts are once again likely to face spin early in their batting innings.
Whether Afghanistan have enough confidence in their batting strength to win the toss and field second on a used wicket is another matter, but what England must be wary of in a seemingly straightforward game against the winless Afghans are their three prize spin assets.
All three – Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman have been selected in big T20 tournaments around the world because of their ability to take wickets. Leg spinner Khan and off-break bowler Mujeeb have a combined age of 38 – incidentally just four years older than Nabi – but both already have stellar ODI records.
Admittedly these figures are slightly skewed by the quality of Afghanistan’s regular opponents, but they do show why Afghanistan made the 10-team tournament. Khan incredibly has 128 ODI wickets already to his name at an even more startling average of 15.5.
Mujeeb – who has only one wicket in the tournament so far – has 52 international one-day wickets at an average of under 21. Nabi is the experienced performer and despite his stats being the worst – perhaps understandably given he has played for Afghanistan since their minnow status – he was a key figure in Melbourne Renegades’ run to the Big Bash title this winter and has the most wickets of any Afghan player in the World Cup so far at an economy rate of under 4.5.
If Jonny Bairstow and Vince can get through the opening overs of spin – as they did so well against Bangladesh – expect a big score. For the paying public’s sake, I hope England bat first as Afghanistan have been bowled out in every single game so far, with a top innings total of just 207.
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It never rains, but it Hales
I was surprised with captain Eoin Morgan’s comments about a potential comeback for Hales following his exclusion from the England setup after breaking rules regarding drug use. Morgan – whose back spasm suffered against the West Indies has largely cleared but may still miss the game at Old Trafford – refused to rule out Hales’ return, if Roy fails to recover from his hamstring tear.
As reported in Metro.co.uk, Morgan said: “If Ed Smith, the national selector, came to myself and Trevor Bayliss and said he felt Alex was the best option, we would have to assess how that would sit in the changing room and the stigma it would bring with Alex coming back.”
I suppose it is sensible for Morgan to keep all doors open – especially as Hales has six ODI centuries to his name and is clearly England’s ‘best option’ at the top of the order. After all, he was in the initial World Cup squad.
But Morgan’s admission that there would be some stigma surrounding any recall for the Nottinghamshire batsman suggests his senior players – and maybe even Morgan himself – do not see Hales as a compatible part of a successful and driven England dressing room.
Obviously, a lot will depend on the state of Roy’s hamstring, but Vince also has the opportunity to quash any growing calls for Hales to be restored to the England side if he cashes in against two of the weakest sides in the World Cup this week.
Vince’s defining innings in an England shirt was in the opening match of the 2017/18 Ashes, when having applied himself brilliantly for 83, he was superbly run out by Nathan Lyon denying the Hampshire man a first international century. That remains Vince’s highest score for England in any format, and remains a case of ‘what might have been’.
But now openings are available – however briefly – in the one-day side and the Test team, Vince must see this as his chance to seize the moment and finally turn talent – and thirty-three county centuries – into something substantial at the highest level.
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