COLOMBO: Luke Wright's match-winning 99 not out off 55 balls for England against Afghanistan in the World Twenty20 was warmly greeted by axed team-mate Kevin Pietersen.
“Thrilled for Luke Wright,” Pietersen said in a post-match discussion on ESPN-Star Sports, the host broadcaster of the tournament for whom he is working as a studio expert.
“He has been out for ages. He has come back in one of his first games since the last tournament and he has performed.”
Pietersen, who was man of the tournament when England won the tournament in 2010 in the Caribbean, has been cast into international exile for disciplinary reasons.
Wright's effort, the best by an England batsman in the World Twenty20, powered the defending champions to an emphatic 116-run win over Afghanistan in a group A match in Colombo on Friday night.
It knocked the minnows out of the tournament and lifted both England and India into the Super Eights round from the group even before they clash in the last league match on Sunday.
With no points carried forward into the next round and the Super Eights groups to be formed on the basis of pre-tournament seedings, both teams will be playing for nothing more than personal glory.
But England captain Stuart Broad said his team will not take the game lightly.
“It is hard to call any international game a dead game,” said Broad.
“We will be fired up and wanting a win against India. Actually, we need to be at our best if we want to beat India.
“They are a very dangerous opposition. In this format of the game, everything depends on how the team performs on that particular day.
“We need to make sure we have a nice relaxed day on Saturday and turn up fresh and excited for Sunday.”
Wright, who may not have been in the side if Pietersen had been around, seized the opportunity by smashing six sixes and eight fours, helping England plunder 87 runs in the last five overs.
England's 196-5 after being sent in to bat proved too much for Afghanistan, who folded up for 80 in 17.2 overs under lights at the Premadasa stadium.
Afghanistan were at one stage in danger of falling below the lowest ever total in T20 internationals of 67 by Kenya against Ireland in 2008, when they were reduced to 26-8 in nine overs.
But Gulbodin Naib and tailender Shapoor Zadran provided unexpected resistance by adding 44 for the ninth wicket.
Naib, who came to bat at number eight, scored more than half of his team's runs before he was last man out for 44 off 32 balls that included five fours and three sixes.
“It was a thoroughly professional performance from the guys,” said Broad.
“It is awesome to start the tournament on a winning note. We batted with maturity.
“Luke Wright's innings was outstanding. Towards the end, the guys came in and struck the ball really well. It was exciting to see such a brilliant performance from the batters.”