New Zealand captain Kane Williamson starred with the bat, while James Neesham was their hero with the ball, as Kiwis eased past Afghanistan with a seven-wicket victory in the ICC World Cup 2019 match in Taunton, on Saturday.
Winning the toss, Williamson had decided to field first. Neesham appeared like a nightmare for the Afghans as he rattled them all over en route to his 5-31. This was the all-rounder’s maiden five-wicket haul, riding on which the Black Caps bundled out Afghanistan for a paltry 172.
In their first innings, the Gulbadin Naib-led side lost star leg-spinner Rashid Khan due to a head injury. The 20-year-old cricketer was batting at zero when a Lockie Ferguson delivery hit him in the helmet. He looked visibly shaken by the blow as the ball ricocheted down onto the stumps. The physio took the field immediately before escorting him to the pavilion with his eyes starting to bulge. “Rashid Khan will take no further part in the game today. He has been pulled out as a precaution after being hit on his head while batting,” the ICC said in a tweet.
Table toppers New Zealand have now won all three of their matches, having six points and a net run rate of +2.163. Afghanistan, meanwhile, succumbed to their third straight defeat and remained at the foot of the 10-team points table. The Afghans were off to a dream start when Aftab Alam (3/45) removed Martin Guptill in the very first delivery. Colin Munro (22) was also sent back by the pacer but once the experienced Williamson and Ross Taylor (48; 52b; 6×4; 1×6) joined hands for a 89-run stand for the third wicket, it was just a matter of time before the Black Caps sealed the issue.
Taylor was unfortunate to miss out on a half century as he got out to Alam but Tom Latham (13 not out) remained at the crease with Williamson who, fittingly, hit the winning runs as New Zealand won with 17.5 overs to spare putting up 173/3. Earlier, Neesham broke Afghanistan’s 66-run opening stand between Hazratullah Zazai and Noor Ali Zadran (31) by dismissing Zazai (34) before sending back Rahmat Shah (0) and then cleaning up their middle order with the scalps of skipper Gulbadin Naib (4), Mohammad Nabi (9) and Najibullah Zadran (4) in no time.
For the Afghans Hashmatullah Shahidi scored a defiant 59 but it was not enough to take them past the 200-run mark. Besides Neesham, tearaway quick Ferguson took 4 wickets, giving away 37 runs in 9.1 overs. Ferguson ended Aftab Alam’s 14 run cameo as he was caught by wicketkeeper Tom Latham who took as many as five catches behind the stumps.
Brief scores: Afghanistan: 172 all out (Hashmatullah Shahidi 59; James Neesham 5/31, Lockie Ferguson 4/37) vs New Zealand 173/3 in 32.1 overs (Kane Williamson 79 not out; Ross Taylor 48; Aftab Alam 3/45).
(With inputs from IANS)