Eoin Morgan hides his relief after England almost fall to Afghanistan

• England captain admits his batsmen failed to adapt to the surface
• Moeen Ali’s and David Willey’s final stand crucial to England win

England kept alive their hopes of reaching the semi-finals of an increasingly captivating World Twenty20 tournament – but did so only after scrambling to a 15-run victory against Afghanistan in Delhi. The English batsmen, who had astounded the much-heralded bowlers of South Africa five days ago with a brilliant run-chase in Mumbai, succumbed haplessly against an assortment of spinners from Afghanistan. This time the bowlers had to come to the rescue.

England lost three wickets in their sixth over; from there they hobbled to 85 for seven before man of the match Moeen Ali and David Willey combined to add a vital 57. The crucial over in the recovery was the 19th of the innings when this pair plundered 25 runs, enabling England to set a target of 143, way beyond their mid-innings expectations. Thereafter the English bowlers, who had been regularly pummelled around the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, imposed themselves on the Afghan batsmen, who seemed disorientated by the prospect of an unlikely victory.

Afterwards Eoin Morgan, who had left his first ball unwisely since it was straight, did his best to hide his relief at England’s escape and to react as if this was a routine win, without really convincing anyone. “We came for a win,” he said, “and we won. We didn’t quite get it right with the bat but we fielded well and bowled well. We talked a lot about the wicket and it was the type we expected. But we did not adapt to the surface.”

But Morgan could not hide his gratitude to Moeen, who after a patient, sketchy start to his innings finished on 41 not out. “Mo played really well,” said Morgan. “Starting was difficult on that wicket and it was very different from what we have been playing on in Mumbai. That 19th over was very important. The difference between 120 and 140 is huge.”

Moeen himself put it a little more prosaically. “We wanted to give ourselves time, take it to the last three overs and have a hack at the end.” Those hacks were mighty influential. In that over, bowled by Amir Hamza, Moeen cleared the boundary once and Willey did so twice.

Morgan said he had not been surprised by the combativeness of Afghanistan in the field. His team had been well aware of the strength of their spin attack, anchored by the long-standing skills of Mohammad Nabi and the exciting wrist-spin of the 17-year-old Rashid Khan. “They are the best associate side at the moment,” said Morgan and no doubt Afghanistan’s performance in this World T20 – even though they have not won a game in the second round of matches – will amplify the pleas to expand the next 50-over World Cup.

Their captain, Asghar Stanikzai, gave a brief no-nonsense assessment, which brooked no argument. “The guys in the top order lost wickets early to poor shots. The pitch wasn’t difficult and they didn’t take responsibility. That’s a big reason why we lost.”

For Afghanistan it was a golden opportunity missed just as, later in the evening, Bangladesh, fellow qualifiers from the first round, squandered an even better chance of causing a major upset against India in Bangalore.


Vic Marks in Delhi

The GuardianTramp

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