Just one run separated Luke Wright from his maiden Twenty20 hundred.
Though the personal milestone eluded Wright, his unbeaten 99 fitted neatly into his team’s plans and set England on such a high pedestal that all Afghanistan could do was stand and gape.
Gone was the chutzpah that defined Afghanistan in the match against India and instead on display was an emerging squad wilting at the slightest hint of pressure.
Wright’s belligerent knock was the cornerstone on which England based its 116-run victory over Afghanistan in a Group B match of the ICC World Twenty20 at the R. Premadasa Stadium here on Friday.
England posted 196 for five and bundled out Afghanistan for 80 in 17.2 overs.
In a shambles
In a display that belied its coach Kabir Khan’s optimism ahead of the match, Afghanistan provided an endless sequence of retreating batsmen as the chase was in a shambles right from the time Mohammad Shahzad skied one off Steven Finn in the first over.
Soon a litany of single digits smudged the Afghanistan score-sheet with England captain Stuart Broad’s reflex-catch on his follow-through that snuffed out his counterpart Nawroz Mangal, being the lone eviction that was earned while the rest perished due to rash shots.
And Gulbodin Naib’s breezy 44 only delayed the inevitable.
Earlier, Wright’s aggression remained a constant as England shrugged aside its first over blues that emanated from Craig Kieswetter chopping left-arm seamer Shapoor Zadran onto his stumps.
Afghanistan’s joy was short-lived as Wright (99 n.o., 55b, 8x4, 6x6) drove Shapoor and pulled Dawat Zadran.
More was to follow in the fifth over bowled by Shapoor as England caned 23 runs with Alex Hales showing a deft touch and Wright being a muscular presence.
Wright’s six off Shapoor was a key tipping point and a 69-run second-wicket partnership off 49 balls took shape.
England shifted gears primarily through Wright though he played an unfortunate hand in the dismissal of Hales.
Wright’s drive off Karim Sadiq ricocheted off the spinner’s hand and crashed into the non-striker’s stumps while Hales backed up too far. An unfazed Wright continued to plunder the hapless bowlers. Leg-spinner Samiullah Shenwari was carted for a four and a six and Eoin Morgan was happy to play second-fiddle in a 72-run third-wicket partnership off 48 balls. Morgan finally broke through the web of singles and lofted the 17th delivery he faced for a six as Mohammad Nabi suffered. More misery plagued the off-spinner as Wright unveiled the reverse-hit and when he tried to scoop one over the in-field, Izzatullah Dawlatzai dropped a sitter.
Meanwhile, Morgan holed out in the deep but still there was no respite for Mangal’s men and they only had themselves to blame as Afghanistan’s attack as well as fielding went to pieces.
The nadir was touched in the 19th over as Dawlatzai scalped Joss Buttler and marred the effect by bowling two no-balls and craned his head skywards.
Wright swung his arms and drew whizzing arcs in the air after Jonny Bairstow opened the floodgates with a clout off the hapless bowler.
Interest was now centred on statistical landmarks as England tried to get past its highest Twenty20 score — 202 against South Africa in 2009 — and Wright inched closer to a hundred.
Both targets proved elusive, but Wright can take heart from the fact that he equalled Alex Hales’ 99, the previous highest Twenty20 knock by an England batsman.
It also set up England nicely for a triumphant night while Afghanistan crashed out of the tournament on a tame note.
It was truly an anti-climax for a squad which promised much at the start.
Keywords: ICC World Twenty20