New Zealand won their third straight match at the World Cup after James Neesham’s maiden international five-wicket haul laid the foundations for a comfortable win over Afghanistan at Taunton.
Afghanistan had motored along to 66 without loss after being asked to bat first in this day-night encounter but the intervention of Neesham (5-31) led to a collapse from which they never fully recovered.
A total of 172 all out after 41.1 overs seemed woefully insufficient and, despite a couple of early scares, that proved to be the case as Kane Williamson’s unbeaten 79 clinched a seven-wicket triumph with 17.5 overs to spare.
New Zealand are therefore top of the embryonic standings after routine victories over Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, either side of a nail-biter against Bangladesh, but tougher tests lie ahead, starting with India next Thursday.
For Afghanistan, a third straight defeat was compounded by a head injury to Rashid Khan, who was unable to take to the field for New Zealand’s chase after being struck on the helmet while batting.
The day had offered plenty of promise for Afghanistan as Hazratullah Zazai and Noor Ali Zadran – the uncle of the dropped Mujeeb Ur Rahman and drafted in because of Mohammad Shahzad’s tournament-ending knee injury – flourished.
The adventurous Hazratullah and the more orthodox Noor Ali started confidently, even if the former led a charmed life, as they put on 61 in the opening powerplay but the introduction of Neesham precipitated a collapse.
Perhaps taking advantage of Lockie Ferguson making life difficult at the other end, Neesham was able to take three of four wickets to fall in the space of 21 balls as Afghanistan lurched from 66 without loss to 70 for four.
Hazratullah was caught at deep cover point for 34, Rahmat Shah got a leading edge to backward point and Gulbadin Naib burned a review after throwing his bat at a wide delivery and getting a slight nick behind.
By this stage Noor Ali (31) had been strangled down the leg side off Ferguson while after two brief rain delays, Neesham had his five-for when Mohammad Nabi and Najibullah Zadran were both caught behind in the space of four balls.
Hashmatullah Shahidi had taken 20 balls to get off the mark but where his team-mates had been reckless, he continued to show a commendable degree of restraint. But he was losing partners at an alarming rate, Rashid departing when he leaned into a delivery from Ferguson that kept a little lower than anticipated and struck him on the helmet before ricocheting into his stumps.
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