Afghanistan braced for tough CWC opener

Afghanistan, the newest sensation in world cricket, will take on world champions Australia in their ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 opener in a day/night fixture in Bristol on 1 June, the ICC confirmed on Thursday.

Afghanistan, who were playing in the ICC World Cricket League Division 5 in 2008, made their World Cup debut in Australia and New Zealand in 2015 and next year will be making their second appearance after winning the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe in March.

When the two sides met in the 2015 tournament in Perth, Australia scored 417 for six after David Warner’s 176, Steve Smith’s 95 and Glenn Maxwell’s 88. In turn, Afghanistan were dismissed for 142 with Mitchell Johnson taking four for 22.

Australia are current holders of the ICC Cricket World Cup

However, Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai said he was not remembering the Perth match as it was now history. “That was a match which taught us plenty of cricket lessons. And as recent results show, we have learnt from that match and only got better since that tournament.

“I am getting goosebumps thinking about playing Australia in our World Cup opener in England. For most of us, it is like a dream but the reality is we have worked extremely hard for this and have been rewarded with the opportunity of not only playing against Australia but all the big nations who have done so very well in international cricket over the past years.

“The match against Australia provides us the chance to make a strong start in the tournament of the best versus the best, and ensure people take serious note of us. We know we have the potential and capability of causing a few upsets and surprises, and the Australia match will surely provide us the impetus to strengthen our reputation as a cricket nation with tremendous future and promise.”

Asghar, who underwent an appendix operation in Zimbabwe last month to pull Afghanistan back from the dead on way to next year’s World Cup, said his side would like to focus on their strengths and trust their capabilities rather than being overawed by the oppositions.

“Naturally, we are a new cricket nation and relatively inexperienced as compared to other participating nations. But we want to focus on our abilities and like any other side in the tournament, would like to arrive in England with a conviction that we can win this tournament.

“I can assure you that Afghanistan will not be also-rans. This event comes once in four years, is a pinnacle in the career of any international cricketer and it’s a matter of great pride to represent your country in the tournament. These are good enough inspirations to leave no stone unturned in our efforts and preparations,” said the 30-year-old who has scored 1,608 runs in 86 ODIs to date.

'We would like to arrive in England with a conviction that we can win this tournament'

Apart from their Bristol opener, Afghanistan will also play two matches in Cardiff (against Sri Lanka and South Africa on 4 and 15 June, respectively), two matches in Southampton (against India and Bangladesh on 22 and 24 June, respectively), two matches at Headingley (against Pakistan and the Windies on 29 June and 4 July, respectively) and a match each at Taunton (against New Zealand on 8 June) and Old Trafford (against England on 18 June).

Afghanistan’s schedule of World Cup matches:

1 June –  v Australia, Bristol (d/n)

4 June – v Sri Lanka, Cardiff Wales Stadium (d)

8 June –  v New Zealand, Taunton (d/n)

15 June – v South Africa, Cardiff Wales Stadium (d/n)

18 June – v England, Old Trafford (d)

22 June – v India, Hampshire Bowl (d)

24 June – v Bangladesh, Hampshire Bowl (d)

29 June – v Pakistan, Headingley (d)

4 July – v Windies, Headingley (d)