Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Afghanistan face uphill challenge against England

Hosts England and minnows Afghanistan face off on Tuesday for the second match at this venue

The drama, vibrancy and quality of the India-Pakistan clash at Old Trafford in Manchester will be difficult to match. Hosts England and minnows Afghanistan face off on Tuesday for the second match at this venue. Mint looks at the lessons the two teams can draw from Sunday’s mega game.

1. Imran Khan’s tweet ignored

Conventional wisdom suggests that a pitch kept under covers for two rainy days will be damp and green. Most commentators, including former England captain Nasser Hussain—who knows English pitches like the back of his hand—agreed that Pakistan had gained a big advantage by winning the toss and putting India in to bat. The seamers did induce a few edges and misses, but the pitch played much better than expected. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted before the game: “Unless pitch is damp, Sarfaraz must win the toss & bat." But his advice was ignored.

2. The hover cover effect

It’s hard to read a pitch and harder still to set aside past experiences of seamers running through batting sides on cloudy Manchester mornings. Indian captain Virat Kohli said he would have liked to bowl first too. So, Sarfaraz and coach Mickey Arthur can be forgiven for not paying heed to their former skipper who won the World Cup in 1992. But what did Imran suspect, sitting 4,000 miles away, that others didn’t get on the ground? That the pitch wasn’t really damp or green despite the drizzles and covers. The hover cover being used in the World Cup has an air circulation unit inside that dries out the pitch and prevents grass from germinating. That explains why the spinners from both sides got the ball to turn so much.

3. Afghanistan spinners’ turn

Afghanistan’s world-class tweakers Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, and Mujeeb Ur Rahman have had no joy in the World Cup. Part of the reason is that they’ve been playing on the small grounds in Bristol, Cardiff, and Taunton. At Old Trafford, they will finally get a chance to play on a regular-sized ground where batsmen can’t clear the boundary so easily with lofted hits. If there’s as much turn on offer as there was for the India-Pakistan game, we could see them challenging England.

4. England’s injury woes

England, like India, have run into injury problems. Skipper Eoin Morgan suffered back spasms and opener Jason Roy limped off the ground with a pulled hamstring in the game against the West Indies. James Vince, a late inclusion after the withdrawal of Alex Hales, will get a game. All-rounder Moeen Ali will probably come in place of Morgan, with Jos Buttler taking over the captaincy.

5. Top 4 separates from the pack

Australia, New Zealand, India, and England are pulling ahead of the rest of the pack at the halfway stage of the round-robin league. The semi-final slots will firm up this week if the trend continues. The rest of the league games will then be more about deciding who tops the table.

Sumit Chakraberty is the author of 2019 Cricket World Cup Thinking Cap.