Just under a year ago, on 19 June 2018, England scored the highest score in ODI history, 481, against a lowly Australia, sans David Warner and Steve Smith, also resting Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins for the match. Indeed, only Stoinis, Maxwell and Finch from that side are likely to play against Afghanistan, though Shaun Marsh may yet make an appearance. So here we are, just shy of a year later, and Australia have well and truly dusted off the cobwebs, winning 3 in a row to come back from 0-2 down to beat India, then beat Pakistan 5-0 away from home, and have won all 3 practice matches, including their unofficial one against West Indies. 11 wins in a row is ominous form, the only side to win both official warm-up matches, against Sri Lanka was perhaps no great achievement, but against the mighty England was great. The first 8 wins were without Smith and Warner, the last 3 were with them. There are 11 matches in the tournament for the finalists. They are on 11 wins in a row, and there are 11 wins to go. Sounds ominous to me.
Afghanistan, for their part, shocked near everyone by beating Pakistan in their first warm-up, only to lose badly to England in the second. While beating Pakistan is good, it counts little considering that England, the team that beat them so soundly, were themselves defeated by their next opponent in Australia. There is hope for Afghanistan, though. Their champions Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi are coming off huge IPLs, and they have many more than that, in both batting and bowling, to give them a real chance. The problem is that they are up against the reigning World Cup champions and 5-time holders of the trophy, who are on an 11-game winning streak, and, for all of their achievements, they are nowhere near the same level. They will be hoping for a massive slip-up and some big things going their way. Even then it probably won’t be enough, but they can hope to show pride, enough, perhaps, to get somewhere close to the semi-finals, or at least to register a few wins in the tournament proper. This is where it begins.
Five Fearless Predictions
(1) David Warner and/or Steve Smith will dominate
All eyes are on the two players fresh from their bans, which means that Afghanistan’s bowlers will target them, and, in turn, at least one, if not both, will fire. We’ve seen this in the three practice games. Where one fails, the other dominates, and sometimes both dominate. Since Smith did better more recently, it’s more likely that it is Warner’s time in this match, but I’m not sure that that’s how it works. We could well see big scores at very quick rates from both of them.
(2) Rashid Khan is key
There is no guarantee that he will take a bucket of wickets but, like Ajantha Mendis was for Sri Lanka in his peak, he is a bowler who can take a lot of wickets even when the others are doing nothing. It might not be enough to win the match for Afghanistan but it sure could spell shockwaves.
(3) This is going to be high-scoring
While 500 might be a bit beyond the reach of Australia, if all goes well they could certainly hit 400, or at least high into the 300s. If any team is going to get 500 in this tournament, this is probably the team to do it, and the match to do it in. Afghanistan won’t lie down easily but if their bowlers can be dominated then it is on the cards. The problem is that, as an opening match, they will probably be more cautious of the victory than of the big score.
(4) The margin won’t be close
If you saw how easily England beat Afghanistan in a mere practice match, imagine Australia, who just beat England, now with fire in their belly, and you can almost double the margin. We could be seeing 380 against 200 here, or bowled out for 150 and scoring them in 10 overs without losing a wicket. This is going to be pure domination.
(5) But it will be fun
The first time we see Steve Smith and David Warner in an official international since their ban more than a year ago is excitement enough, but this is also the reigning champions, written off by many after their poor run of form in the middle of the ban, coming back. It is the kind of thing that Hollywood movie scripts are made of, and this is where it begins. We know what we are expecting. Let’s see if it is delivered.