The top and bottom placed teams in the 2019 ICC World Cup will go head-to-head on Saturday at Taunton when New Zealand take on Afghanistan.
The Blackcaps have made an excellent start to their campaign in England with two victories in as many matches against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It will hence be a third successive clash against an Asian side for Kane Williamson and his men.
Tournament minnows Afghanistan, on the other hand, have tasted two losses in two so far in a poor start to their second 50-over World Cup campaign. Gulbadin Naib’s men were comprehensively beaten by Australia in their opener before going down to Sri Lanka in a low-scoring encounter.
BATTING LOOKING SHAKY FOR BOTH TEAMS
While the Kiwis started off their campaign with a 10-wicket rout of Sri Lanka in their campaign opener, they nearly gave it away before sealing two points against Bangladesh in their second game.
The Blackcaps looked to be in control of the 245-run chase against the Tigers with skipper Williamson and Ross Taylor going strong before suffering a late collapse under pressure.
Thankfully for them, all-rounder Mitchell Santner was on hand to steer the chase in the right direction ultimately, but such mistakes could prove crucial as we go ahead in the tournament.
Afghanistan, for their part, have been sub-par with the bat in both games but were particularly shocking against the Sri Lankans where they were bowled out for just 152 runs while chasing a modest target of 202.
The Afghan batsmen were found wanting on a pitch with plenty of seam movement and will have to be much better if they are to make a fist of it against a formidable Kiwi pace attack.
PACE DOING THE TRICK FOR KIWIS SO FAR
When it comes to the wicket-taking charts after two rounds of the 2019 World Cup, it is New Zealand’s Matt Henry who has been the standout with seven wickets in two outings.
While Henry has been the most prolific bowler, his team-mates Lockie Ferguson and Trent Boult are not far behind with seven wickets between them. Throw in all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme’s useful medium-pace into the mix and Tim Southee’s seamers and it is one formidable fast-bowling arsenal at the disposal of Williamson.
The Kiwis bowled out Sri Lanka for just 136 in the opener before bundling out Bangladesh for 245 in their most recent outing. With 20 wickets already in the bag in two games, New Zealand’s bowlers will be licking their lips at the prospect of bowling to Afghanistan’s underwhelming batsmen who are looking short of application and confidence.
KIWIS HOLD HEAD-TO-HEAD ADVANTAGE
Saturday’s clash at Taunton will be only the second meeting between the two sides in the ODI format. The only time the two sides met previously was in the 2015 edition of the World Cup where the Kiwis came out on top by six wickets in front of their home fans in Napier.
Quite a few of the current Afghan squad featured in that clash including Mohammad Nabi, Najibullah Zadran, Dawalt Zadran and Hamid Hassan. However, the likes of Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman will be bowling to the Kiwis for the first time in an international clash and that could make it an intriguing prospect.
Afghanistan will have to make do without the services of their explosive wicketkeeper/batsman Mohammad Shahzad whose knee injury has ruled him out of the remainder of the tournament. He has been replaced by 18-year-old Ikram Ali Khil.
Afghanistan: Noor Ali, Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah (wk), Hashmatullah Shahidi, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib (c), Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Mujeeb ur Rahman.
New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Tom Latham (wk), James Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult.
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