Afghanistan beaten by Australia in Cricket World Cup

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Australia ease to victory against Afghanistan
ICC Men's Cricket World Cup, Bristol
Afghanistan 207 (38.2 overs): Najibullah 51, Cummins 3-40, Zampa 3-60
Australia 209-3 (34.5 overs): Warner 89*, Finch 66
Australia won by seven wickets
Scorecard; Table; Schedule

David Warner led holders Australia to a routine seven-wicket win against Afghanistan with an unbeaten 89 at the start of their World Cup defence.

Chasing a below-par 208, Warner steered his side to victory with 91 balls to spare after captain Aaron Finch helped set the tone with 66 off 49.

Pat Cummins and Adam Zampa took three wickets apiece as Afghanistan were bowled out for just 207.

Najibullah Zadran (51) impressed, however, with some powerful strokeplay.

Australia, who came into this tournament in resurgent form with overseas series victories against India and Pakistan, have now won nine one-day internationals in a row.

The last time that happened was during their victorious 2015 World Cup campaign; a run which began with a 275-run win against Afghanistan.

The five-time World Cup winners will take that form into their next game against West Indies on Thursday at Trent Bridge, while Afghanistan take on Sri Lanka in Cardiff on Tuesday.

Afghanistan, winners of last year's qualifier and in just their second World Cup appearance, were roared on by enthusiastic and colourful support all around the ground with many neutrals also siding with the relative minnows.

But any hopes of an upset were dashed by a stuttering display with the bat before some sloppy fielding and erratic bowling.

Warner and Smith return to competitive action

Steve Smith and David Warner in the middle at Bristol
Both Smith, left, and Warner were booed by sections of the crowd

Another sub-plot was the long-awaited returns to competitive Australia action for Warner and Steve Smith - the pair having served their respective bans for their roles in the sandpaper scandal of March 2018.

Smith received a hostile reception from the crowd during his century against England in the World Cup warm-up match in Southampton last Saturday and that theme continued, if less pointedly, when he came out to bat alongside Warner in the closing stages.

Two rather inventive spectators did catch the eye in the crowd with full-body suits fashioned to look like pieces of sandpaper.

Coach Justin Langer's call before the game for crowds to show the pair "respect" during this summer does not appear to have registered quite yet.

Smith played his part in the field initially; taking a smart catch at cover to dismiss Rahmat Shah off Zampa and manufacturing the run out of Mohammad Nabi.

He fell just before the conclusion for a sedate 18 off 27 balls and the tempo of that innings was largely matched by Warner.

The left-handed opener made somewhat serene progress as Australia were always in command of the run-chase and was happy to play second fiddle to Finch's power hitting in an opening partnership worth 96.

A bowling conundrum for Australia?

Adam Zampa celebrates a wicket
Adam Zampa has a higher economy rate than Australia's other spinner Nathan Lyon, but a far superior strike-rate in ODIs

While the batting looked to be firing for the holders, there would have been some things for captain Finch and coach Langer to mull over in terms of the balance of their bowling attack.

While leg-spinner Zampa's 3-60 off eight overs may look good on paper, it was littered with some loose and erratic deliveries.

He went for 22 in one over while all-rounder Marcus Stoinis also came in for some punishment, conceding 21 to Rashid's long-range hitting.

The frontline seamers of Starc, Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile were more potent as they chose to bowl short more often than not - potentially taking inspiration from some of the dominant spells of fast bowling seen already in this tournament.

But the absence of spinner Nathan Lyon from their line-up, as well as Finch opting not to use Glenn Maxwell's off-spin, drew some bemusement from members of the Australian media.

Afghanistan show promise but naivety with bat

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Afghanistan play their best over of the day with two fours and two sixes hit.

There was a bit of surprise around the ground when Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib won the toss and elected to bat first on what appeared to be another bowler-friendly wicket with plenty of live grass on top.

He may have been regretting that call as soon as three balls in when Mitchell Starc knocked back Mohammad Shahzad's off stump with a searing yorker before a run was on the board.

It got worse five balls later when Pat Cummins dismissed big-hitting opener Hazratullah Zazai, also without scoring - caught behind by Alex Carey to leave Afghanistan 5-2.

By 20 overs, they were in deep trouble at 77-5.

But there were a number of promising partnerships that showed glimpses of what power their batting may produce in this tournament.

Rahmat Shah struck six fours in his 43 off 60 balls and then the exciting talent of Najibullah added 83 for the sixth wicket in 77 balls with Gulbadin (31).

Najibullah's half-century came off just 46 balls, with seven fours and two sixes, before Rashid Khan took up the mantle at number eight with two fours and three sixes in his 27.

But those cameos were all too frequent and missing one anchoring innings that may have pushed them closer to a score in the region of 250.

'Warner played incredibly well' - what they said

Australia captain Aaron Finch: "There was a bit of nerves - we've been training for so long, we were probably ready to go three or four days ago.

"It was a very important innings for David (Warner). He was struggling with his timing early on but he kept hanging in there. That was great for him to kick on and do really well for us."

On whether net run rate was a consideration: "I think when you get into a winning position then you think about that, but it's important you don't look too far ahead. They have some very good spinners so if you don't take that into consideration you are playing with fire."

Afghanistan fan
Afghanistan were well supported in Bristol

Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib: "Playing against this kind of team we can learn lessons. They don't give you any chance to recover from your mistakes.

"I have a lot of respect for Warner and Smith and we can't do anything about the crowd's reaction to them. Warner played incredibly well to ignore that and play as well as he did.

"If we have the sort of audience that we do backing us in the stands, we take a lot of positive things from that.

"There were a huge numbers of Afghans in the crowd that give us great energy out in the middle plus many of the neutrals seemed to be behind us too."

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