Afghanistan making waves at Cricket World Cup while England is barely hanging on

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A country in constant turmoil. That’s the only way the world sees Afghanistan.

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But in the past 10 days, Afghanistan has been synonymous with cricket and giant-killing.

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First, it turned the tables on England — a country that not only introduced the game to the world, but also to Afghanistan in the 1830s.

After England, it was the turn of their neighbours Pakistan to feel the bite of the scorpion. Many of the Afghanis got hooked on their love of the game in Pakistani refugee camps during the decades of war when the Russians ran roughshod over the country.

Now little-known Afghanistan has taken the World Cup being played in India by the scruff of its neck and given it a violent shake, and two recipients of the Afghani insurrection have been England and Pakistan.

Following the loss to the Afghanis, defending champion England is hanging on by a thread and mighty Pakistan, after starting with two straight wins, finds itself in the same position as the tournament reaches the halfway mark.

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The only team at this stage with an unbeaten record at 5-0 is Rohit Sharma’s India following an exciting victory over New Zealand, at the time the only other unbeaten team in the competition.

Prior to this clash of the two squads with a clean sheet, India had not been able to defeat the Kiwis since 2005. But on this occasion, a brilliant knock of 95 by Virat Kohli and a five-wicket haul by paceman Mohammed Shami ended the streak.

On a wild weekend just after the Afghanis stunned England, it was the turn of South Africa to obliterate England and take a step toward the semifinals.

The Proteas trounced England by a whopping 229 runs at the heat dome known as Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, where the needle hit 37C with the humidity at around 46%. But England could not stand the heat after South Africa posted 399 for seven and were then dismissed for a woeful 170 in 22 overs.

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The champions can still qualify for the semifinals, but likely will have to win all five of their remaining group matches. The chances of that happening are as rare as Toronto being spared of snow this winter.

The highlight of South Africa’s innings was Heinrich Klaasen smashing a 61-ball hundred and Marco Jansen 75 from 42 balls. Klassen was gasping for breath during his epic century with sweat dripping from his cap.

Having been fried in the field, England’s batsmen had no answer to the Proteas attack in which new fast bowler Gerald Coetzee excelled with three for 35. England stumbled from 68 for six to 100 for eight and some wild hitting by Mark Wood (43 not out) and Gus Atkinson (35) with nothing to lose laid the lumber.

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England’s wobbly campaign continues against Sri Lanka on Thursday before facing India and Australia.

Meanwhile, South Africa, with the most powerful batting lineup in the World Cup, posted 382 for five against Bangladesh on Tuesday with opener Quinton de Kock hitting a massive 174 that was laced with 15 fours and seven sixes. Other big scorers were Klassen, who made 90, and Aiden Markham 60.

Bangladesh’s Mohammad Mahmudullah then stroked a brilliant 111 in a losing cause as it folded for 233 to go down by a massive 149 runs. South Africa has now emerged as a big threat to India.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan defeated Pakistan for the first time in an ODI by eight wickets by pulling off its highest successful chase in this thriller in Chennai.

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Pakistan posted 282 for seven and this looked like a solid total but the Afghans hit back with 286 for two with an over to spare. For the Afghans, Ibrahim Zadran made 87, Rahmanullah Gurbaz smacked 65 and Rahmat Shah struck 77 not out as Afghanistan moved up to sixth in the standings while England dropped to last in the table.

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While Afghanistan has two of the best spinners in the world, it was teenage wrister Noor Ahmad who starred with three for 49. There was joy across Afghanistan following these two victories.

“You know the situation in Afghanistan, it’s very depressing,” 25-year-old Abdul Wahab, who manages a Kabul medical centre, told a news agency. “The only excuse to forget everything is cricket.”

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Australia may be forgotten, but don’t ever rule them out for mounting a late challenge. The Aussies, who have a 2-2 record, plundered Pakistan’s attack for 367 for nine in Bengaluru and then restricted Pakistan for 305 thanks to spinner Adam Zampa’s four for 53.

Aussie openers David Warner and Mitchell Marsh burst into life with centuries to put on 259 for the first wicket. Warner made 163 off 124 balls and Marsh clobbered 121 off 108 deliveries with Shaheen Afridi the pick of the Pakistani bowlers with five for 54.

BEDI PASSES AWAY

Former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi, who was known for being part of a famous spin quartet, has died at the age of 77, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced.

Bedi, leg spinner Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and off-spinners Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Erapalli Prasanna were regarded the country’s most potent bowling force in the 1960s and ’70s.

Check out our sports section for the latest news and analysis.

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