Undaunted by injury-hit England, Afghanistan eye upset

Updated June 18, 2019

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MANCHESTER: England’s Jofra Archer plays football with team-mates during a training session at Old Trafford on Monday.—AFP
MANCHESTER: England’s Jofra Archer plays football with team-mates during a training session at Old Trafford on Monday.—AFP

MANCHESTER: Playing against top-ranked England on its home soil isn’t more daunting for Afghanistan skipper Gulbadin Naib than any other game at the ICC World Cup.

Afghanistan have to play away from home a lot, Naib noted. The tournament hosts are favoured to win their first 50-over World Cup title but will be missing big-hitting opener Jason Roy because of injury on Tuesday, and captain Eoin Morgan also is a doubtful starter in Manchester because of a back problem.

“Yeah, it’s good luck for us Jason Roy is not playing tomorrow,” Naib said. “Roy is one of the best players in the world now in the last two years. He’s one of the world-class, best players. England are a strong side, they are the home side, so everything is going England’s side ... [but] we’re here to make some good upsets.”

England have beaten South Africa, Bangladesh and West Indies but had an upset loss to Pakistan in their second game. Afghanistan have lost to defending champions Australia, Sri Lanka, 2015 finalists New Zealand and South Africa, and not really been close to a win.

But Morgan is wary, because he predicted before the tournament that this Afghan squad would win games.

Roy to miss next two matches of mega event

“They haven’t managed to do that yet,” Morgan said. “So that makes tomorrow, you know, a tougher challenge.”

The Old Trafford pitch showed some turn during India’s win over Pakistan on Sunday and again is expected to assist spinners, which helps an Afghan line-up that relies heavily on slow bowlers and gives England the opportunity to recall Moeen Ali to bolster the batting and provide bowling backup to leg-spinner Adil Rashid.

Morgan said with Roy out for at least two games with a torn muscle in his left hamstring, James Vince would come into the England line-up as an opener and Joe Root, who scored an unbeaten century when he opened in the eight-wicket win over West Indies last Friday, would revert to No. 3.

“Jason Roy, who left the field during West Indies’ innings in the World Cup fixture on Friday due to left hamstring tightness, underwent an MRI scan on Saturday in London,” an England team spokesman said.

“The MRI confirmed that Roy has suffered a hamstring tear. He is set to miss England’s next two matches in the World Cup against Afghanistan (June 18) and Sri Lanka (June 21).”

Still, the England skipper is confident the 28-year-old Roy will be okay by next week to play Australia.

Roy, who suffered a hamstring injury during England’s tour of the Caribbean earlier this year, hit a fifty in their World Cup opening win over South Africa and then struck a commanding 153 in a victory over Bangladesh.

But he fell for just eight during England’s surprise 14-run group loss to Pakistan at Trent Bridge.

Meanwhile Morgan, who suffered a back spasm in the field against the West Indies and did not bat in that match, will be assessed ahead of the Afghanistan clash but he expects to play against them.

“It’s drastically impr­oved,” Morgan said of his back. “I’ve had a hit in the nets and I’m aiming to play tomorrow,” the middle-order batsman added. “If the game was today I think I could play. It all depends on how I pull up in the morning.”

Afghanistan’s game plan isn’t a secret, with their bowling attack built around a spin department led by Rashid Khan. Afghanistan had some important wins over Sri Lanka and Pakistan and a draw with India last year at the Asia Cup, and beat West Indies to clinch top spot in the World Cup qualifying tournament.

The step-up to the 10-team World Cup competition has been an experience Naib believes his squad is benefiting from.

Conditions on the wickets at Bristol, Cardiff and Taunton haven’t been ideal for Afghanistan’s spinners so far, but Naib is expecting Old Trafford to be different.

“Rashid is [an] attacking bowler. Every time, he’s atta­cking,” Naib said. “Spin is one of the high success rates of the Afghanistan team. If a little bit of spin there, maybe it’s a good day for Afghanistan!”

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2019