Difficult time ahead for Afghanistan against Australia
PERTH, Australia (AP) — The assignment couldn’t get much tougher for Afghanistan, taking on Australia at the fast and furious WACA ground only four days after the four-time Cricket World Cup champions lost to co-host New Zealand and a few days before they play Sri Lanka.
Afghanistan is playing at the World Cup for the first time in the 50-over format, and its experience in the international arena spans little more than a decade. Yet the Afghan team has grown in confidence since its thrilling one-wicket win over Scotland that secured its first win tournament victory.
Michael Clarke’s Australians are coming off a one-wicket loss, and tend to be ruthless anyway. And they’re desperate for the full competition points to get back on track after a washout against Bangladesh. With a match against 1996 champion Sri Lanka in Sydney on Saturday, the Australians know they need to regain form quickly.
Clarke has one of the fastest bowlers in the world at his disposal in Mitchell Johnson, who revels in the extra pace and carry that the WACA wicket provides and which makes it one of the most unique pitches in the world. Afghanistan’s relatively inexperienced batsmen will get a chance to see it first-hand.
“I think it’s great for the World Cup to see Afghanistan here and doing really well,” Clarke said. “I think they’ve shown the world on this stage that they’ve got a really good team and they can perform at this level against the best.”
Australia has injury concerns over 21-year-old paceman Pat Cummins, who has a side strain, although allrounder James Faulkner is expected to be available after missing the first three games with his own side strain and Clarke, who scored 12 against New Zealand in his first match in nine weeks since surgery on his hamstring, says he’s feeling as fit as ever.
“I’m confident we can turn things around quickly,” said Clarke, rejecting the suggestion that the tournament schedule, the long flights and the wash out against Bangladesh in Brisbane had upset his team’s form. “I believe in confidence, and I think we’ve been playing some really good one-day cricket over the past 12 months ... so I think our players are full of confidence, and I think that’s how you play your best cricket.”
Australia was bowled out for 151 against New Zealand, but forced a thrilling finish to the Auckland match by taking nine wickets defending the total. New Zealand had just enough to win and improve its record to four wins from four starts and top spot in Pool A.
“We certainly respect and appreciate how good a team New Zealand are, and they beat us the other day,” Clarke said. “It’s up to us to turn things around and come out and perform really good tomorrow.”
Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi has no illusions about the task in front of his team, but is confident his players have had time to acclimatize to the conditions and is hoping they can match it with the best.
“When you’re playing with the big teams and also with the big names, first we played and we didn’t get really excited,” he said. “Now we’re used to with them. It’s quite good when you’re watching a game from the last 10 years (involving) Australia, Pakistan, India, and now we’re playing together, it’s quite good for me and also for my team.”
The win over Scotland sparked celebrations for Afghan supporters around the world, and President Ashraf Ghani was among the callers ringing to pass on congratulations.
“Everyone has enjoyed that game and everyone back home in every city, it’s quite a good game as well,” Nabi said. “The president called as well to congratulate the boys. They played very well the last three games and also congratulate for the victory as well.”