18th over: England 92-1 (Bairstow 43, Root 21) Gulbadin’s slower ball is meat and drink to Bairstow, who clomps it for four, back past the bowler’s ear. He’s got his customary 40 and played some fine shots, but he has occupied 56 balls. The only England batsman to have gone at a run a ball today is the one who usually plays the anchor, Root. And that’s drinks, with the game nicely poised.
17th over: England 86-1 (Bairstow 38, Root 20) Rahmat serves up a full toss and Root steps right out to sweep for four, well in front of square. He follows up with two effortless back-foot shots, a pull and a wristy cut. Does anyone in the world at the moment have a better eye for length?
16th over: England 75-1 (Bairstow 36, Root 11) Another edge from Bairstow, through the vacant slips off Gulbadin, who has brought himself back. Still plenty of dots, which add up to a moral victory for Afghanistan.
“In reply to Neil Kempson regarding OBO qualifications [7th over],” says Brian Withington, “I thought we all just fired off random emails and left it to the paid experts to sort the wheat from the chaff?”
15th over: England 72-1 (Bairstow 34, Root 10) Four singles off Nabi. “No hint,” says Mahendra Killedar, “of much anticipated 500 so far…” Very true.
14th over: England 68-1 (Bairstow 32, Root 8) Rahmat Shah comes on, with his leg-breaks, and immediately beats Bairstow with a beauty that grips and lifts and leaves him. Shane Warne would have been delighted with that. Later in the over, Bairstow bites back with a straight whack, from the crease, that feels like a catch for a moment, only to carry for six. Game on.
13th over: England 60-1 (Bairstow 25, Root 7) Gulbadin brings himself on, seam replacing spin, and just when they are threatening to dominate, both batsmen play false shots. Bairstow gets a bit wafty outside off and nearly gives a catch to backward point, and Root plays that stroke we were discussing the other day that has several names – the Harrow, French or Boris cut.
Meanwhile Damian Kemp in Dublin is picking up on my little exchange with Neil Kempson in the 7th over. “‘That is a very good question’ sounds like the start of an answer you might have given in your OBO job interview.” Ha.
12th over: England 59-1 (Bairstow 24, Root 7) Spin replaces seam as Dawlat takes his sweater. He was more expensive than Mujeeb, but also more incisive (5-0-30-1). Nabi comes on and, to his second ball, Bairstow brings out the slog-sweep. A few singles and then Root, taking his time, late-cuts for his first four. Eleven off the over, so this may be the moment that England took control.
11th over: England 48-1 (Bairstow 18, Root 2) Mujeeb continues, and carries on giving a masterclass – just two off the over. His figures are 6-0-18-0 and Afghanistan are, if anything, on top.
10th over: England 46-1 (Bairstow 17, Root 1) Vince’s downfall was propping forward, so that a spicy bouncer was in his face before he knew it. He edged into his helmet, which made the catch even easier. Root comes in, watches a wide go by and then gets off the mark to his first legitimate ball, gliding to third man.
“Re the comment that the group is all but decided,” says Finbar Saunders on Twitter, “With hardly any of the top 4 yet to play each other they’ll all take wins from one another. Add to this that England/NZ and Ind all need at least 3 wins to progress and you’ll see it’s still all to play for.”
Wicket! Vince c Mujeeb b Dawlat 26 (England 44-1)
Oh Vince. Another duff pull, another top edge, and this time the man at short fine leg makes no mistake. The president is on his feet.
9th over: England 42-0 (Vince 24, Bairstow 17) Bairstow paddles Mujeeb straight to the man at short fine leg, and there’s another misfield. Maybe they are nervous after all.
“Morning Tim from a surprisingly sunny Old Trafford (even blue skies)!” says Natalia Marsden. “During the monsoon-esque rain we had in Manchester yesterday evening, I encountered the Afghanistan team disembarking from their team bus into (a very posh) hotel. Needless to say, they did not seem best pleased to be arriving into miserable Manchester, with plenty of muttering and pointing at the ominous sky. We really did have a lot of rain yesterday, so chapeau to the groundstaff for allowing us to have some play. Here’s hoping the ever-unlucky Vince takes his opportunity today, he’s usually a good player of spin and he really is a beautiful player to watch.
On another note, there’s still plenty of tickets available – £40 from the ticket office I believe!”
8th over: England 40-0 (Vince 23, Bairstow 16) Dawlat overpitches and Vince sends the ball flying through the air with the greatest of ease. Then he picks up two from a misfield in the covers, and is missed at deep square, top-edging a pull, as the fielder sees it late and simply fails to arrive. That over was Vince, and possibly Afghanistan, in a nutshell.
7th over: England 32-0 (Vince 15, Bairstow 16) Bairstow shapes to pull Mujeeb, sees some sharp turn (the other way, from leg), and pulls out, if you can pull out of a pull.
“I was just wondering,” says Neil Kempson, “when one applies to be a Guardian OBOer, does the interview have more emphasis on cricketing journalism skills or one’s witticisms and abilities to keep the conversation dynamic and flowing?” That is a very good question.
6th over: England 30-0 (Vince 14, Bairstow 16) Now England get going as Dawlat loses his length. Bairstow plays an imperious whack-pull and Vince gets away with a mistimed off drive that ends up going for four.
5th over: England 20-0 (Vince 9, Bairstow 11) Mujeeb tosses one up, out of the back of the hand, and Bairstow pounces with an off drive for four. But still, plenty of dots. Afghanistan, in front of Mr President, are not showing any nerves.
“Bit puzzled,” says Jim Evans, “by England’s decision not to utilise the squad more fully in this match. Opportunity missed to protect Wood’s ankle and Rashid’s shoulder, while getting Curran and Dawson into the tournament. It’s not a question of taking Afghanistan lightly. Competition to make the squad was fierce and no one in the final XV should be viewed as an outsider. Any thoughts? (Other than it being a moot point now anyway…)“ I agree. And where would the OBO be if we ruled out moot points?
4th over: England 15-0 (Vince 9, Bairstow 6) An equally good over from Dawlat, conceding only a single.
“Morning Tim.” Morning David Horn. “I captained my school 3rd XI for one glorious season, so I feel qualified to say: Eoin Morgan knows more about cricket / his England team than I do. If he says ‘bat first’, then I stand squarely behind him (at a respectful distance, and slightly in awe of his terrifying icy veins).” Know what you mean, but Mike Brearley knew more about cricket and his England team than any of us, and he still got things horribly wrong in a World Cup final.
3rd over: England 14-0 (Vince 9, Bairstow 5) Mujeeb finds his line, outside off, and strings together five dots before Bairstow squeezes a cover drive through for three, thanks to a misfield and some ridiculously good running. “This is an excellent start from Mujeeb,” says Nasser. “322,” says the score predictor.
2nd over: England 11-0 (Vince 9, Bairstow 2) There’s a case for spin at both ends, but Gulbadin goes with Dawlat’s medium-fast seamers. He drops short and Vince is onto it like a shot – a very good shot, a whipped pull for the first four of the day.
“Armchair critic here,” says Nigel Cleaver. Join the club. “Played u16 county cricket for Herefordshire, lol!!” Ah, OK, proper player. “For me everything pointed to NOT batting first. Where to begin, injuries, lost your key opening batsman, bowling is Afghanistan’s main strength, they haven’t batted beyond 41 overs, only 2 batsmen have reached 50.
Surely putting them in, on an English wicket in English surroundings, Archer Wood etc blasting at them was best? Knock them over for 200 or less, Vince then doesn’t have the pressure to do a Roy. Go on Morgan, prove me wrong!” If the aim is just to win, yes; but if he’s thinking about giving more players a good opportunity…
1st over: England 4-0 (Vince 4, Bairstow 0) Mujeeb takes the new ball with his off-breaks and James Vince tucks a couple off his legs, twice. Vince has to get a hundred for England some time, and if not today, when?
A thought about England’s line-up from Bob O’Hara. “Not only do we have 4 seamers & 3 spinners, but we have 2 wicketkeepers. Makes me wonder what one-dimensional players like Morgan & Vince (& Roy!) are doing in the side.” Morgan is NOT one-dimensional. Captain, batsman, fielder, and if anyone should take some drugs, moral compass.
Afghanistan are taking this seriously. They’ve got their president to come along – Ashraf Ghani. He looks grave, as if thinking about the fact that they haven’t scored 200 yet. Neither the Queen nor Theresa May seems to be there to join him. You’d think at least one of them would have some time on their hands.
“Yesterday’s game marked the halfway point in the robin robin phase,” says Chris Parker in Durham, “and barring a monumental balls-up by one of them (Eng losing 3 of their 5, or NZ/Ind losing 4 of their 5), we know that the current top 4 will be the final top 4; and the remaining 22 games will basically be about deciding which order they’re in. I know the TV companies will be happy, but it’s not a great format is it?” No, although it’s not the format’s fault that the middling teams – South Africa, West Indies and Pakistan – have come disguised as minnows. And as we’re only half-way through, there is still time for things to change, isn’t there?
England 1 Jonny Bairstow, 2 James Vince, 2 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler (wkt), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Jofra Archer, 11 Mark Wood.
Afghanistan 1 Noor Ali, 2 Gulbadin (capt), 3 Rahmat Shah, 4 Hashmatullah, 5 Asghar Afghan, 6 Mohammad Nabi, 7 Najibullah, 8 Ikram Alikhil (wkt), 9 Rashid Khan, 10 Dawlat Zadran, 11 Mujeeb ur Rahman.
Jason Roy has been talking to Sky about his hamstring. “Minimum ten days,” he says. Once he trots back to the dressing-room, Nasser Hussain points out that England haven’t said what grade it is, which makes him suspicious that it’s a grade-two, “and that’s usually two to four weeks”.
An email! From Ross Hall in Trafford, Manchester, of all places. “Love the fact,” says Ross, “you’re counting Root as a spinner now!” Yes, perhaps flattering him a little. Should I have said two and a half spinners?
England changes: Moeen and Vince come in
It’s Vince for Roy, as expected, and Moeen comes in for Liam Plunkett, who has had stomach trouble. So England have four seamers (Woakes, Archer, Wood, Stokes) and three spinners (Rashid, Moeen, Root).
Toss: England bat first
Eoin Morgan is fit to flip a coin. He wins the toss and chooses to bat first, for once in his life.
Morning everyone and welcome to the 24th match in a World Cup group stage that is like Celine Dion’s heart: it will go on. Today England face Afghanistan for the first time ever (warm-ups aside) on English soil. It’s a meeting that promises more geopolitical intrigue than competitiveness – although, after Bangladesh’s thrilling demolition of the West Indian quicks, reversals are back in vogue.
Old Trafford may have ends named after seam and swing bowlers, but it offers just what the spinner ordered – bounce and turn. On Sunday, on the same strip that will be used today, Kuldeep Yadav of India produced a near-wonderball to bamboozle Babar Azam of Pakistan. Afghanistan, with the excellent Rashid Khan leading a pack of twirlers, could bowl 40 overs of spin, and England’s big-hitters are quite capable of being bewildered by it. Jos Buttler, a superstar against most bowling, has faced ten balls from Rashid Khan in T20 cricket, made four runs and been out four times.
England are hot favourites but they have injuries to deal with. Jason Roy is out with a damaged hamstring, presumably to be replaced by James Vince, the well-known cameo artist. Eoin Morgan is a doubt after his back spasms, though personally I’d pick him even if he was on crutches, just to have his canny brain and icy nerve out there. But Morgan himself may take a different view and his place could go to Moeen Ali, which would relegate Joe Root, who took two wickets the other day, to the eighth bowling option. And there may well be an outing for one or both of the forgotten men, Tom Curran and Liam Dawson. We will know more after the toss, in about 25 minutes; play starts half an hour after that, at 10.30am BST. The weather, by recent English standards, is positively balmy: just a 10pc chance of rain.