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NZ, Afghanistan suit up for Taunton's first ODI in 20 years

07 Jun 2019 CricBuzz

Not many players taking part in this World Cup will have played at Taunton before. The England squad obviously have, so too those who have been overseas players in country cricket. South Africa played a T20I here two years ago. Before that, the last international games played at the home of Somerset were two World Cup fixtures in the 1999 tournament. Before that, a game between England and Sri Lanka in the 1983 competition. International cricket is rare in these parts.

The Taunton faithful have three matches this time round, though, starting with Afghanistan against New Zealand on Saturday, a day-night game. The town, about an hour and twenty minute drive from Bristol, is embracing their moment on the World Cup stage. A sell-out crowd is expected, a Fanzone has been set-up and there will be street cricket activities for locals to try in the morning before the game. Mercifully, the match promises to escape the torrential wet weather that smothered the south-west of England on Friday.

Whether the game is a damp squib depends rather more on the performance of Afghanistan than the skies above. Two defeats from two with batting issues galore, facing an unbeaten New Zealand team with a strong bowling attack is probably not what Afghanistan would have wanted right now. If their opponents win the toss and bowl, Gulbadin Naib's men will have to show rather more resolve with bat in hand than they have managed so far in this tournament.

Their top order has struggled badly, being reduced to 77 for five against Australia and then 57 for five in the game against Sri Lanka. Only Rahmat Shah, with 43 against Australia, and Najibullah Zadran, with scores of 51 and 43 from number seven, have looked settled and composed, taking calculated risks. The rest of the order has been frantic and gung-ho and against a disciplined New Zealand attack, that approach will fail more often than it succeeds.

To make matters worse, wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad's World Cup is over after the knee injury he suffered in the warm-up victory over Pakistan failed to clear up. He has been replaced in the squad by the inexperienced Ikram Ali Khil, who only made his ODI debut in March, further weakening a batting order than needs all the help it can get.

There are not many better grounds at which to find your batting form, however. In limited-overs cricket, Taunton has arguably been the second most batsman-friendly surface in the country in recent years behind Trent Bridge. Somerset made two scores above 350 and a 292 for 5, in 45 overs, from four matches there in this year's Royal London One-Day Cup and not many bowlers now travel down to the County Ground excited at the prospect. If Afghanistan are going to score runs anywhere then, it will be here.

Despite being unbeaten so far in the tournament, New Zealand will be wary. Against Bangladesh at The Oval, they were coasting to victory with 84 needed and eight wickets in hand before suffering a collapse which nearly cost them the match. A three-pronged spin attack did much of the damage and Afghanistan's slow bowlers suffer little in comparison with their Bangladeshi counterparts. Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb ur Rahman will have looked on with interest.

This game will be just the second time the two countries have met in ODI cricket. New Zealand won the first comfortably enough during the 2015 World Cup and although the two sets of players haven't locked horns since, there is some familiarity there. Kane Williamson captained Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi during the IPL, Mujeeb has bowled at many of the New Zealand players in various T20 competitions.

Afghanistan are no longer the plucky associate nation punching above their weight. They are far, far better than that, a full-member Test country, expected to perform and compete regularly against the more established teams. That is a different sort of expectation, though, a different sort of pressure and so far in this tournament, particularly with the bat, they have not been good enough to deal with it. That needs to change. Perhaps Taunton might be the place where it does.

When:Saturday June 8, 2019 at 1.30pm Local Time

Where:County Ground, Taunton.

What to expect: Although it was expected to sheet it down with rain in the west country for nearly all of the 24 hours leading up to the game, the forecast for the match itself is dry with sunny spells. The pitch could contain some moisture after all of the wet weather, offering the prospect of some assistance for the fast bowlers in the first innings but otherwise the pitch is expected to be very good for batting.

Team News

New Zealand: The most pleasing aspect of the tournament so far for New Zealand is that they have won both matches without two of their first-choice team being available. That might change here with Tim Southee and Henry Nicholls both expected to come back into contention after sitting out the first two matches with injury. If they return, Matt Henry and Jimmy Neesham could be the men to make way.

Possible XI: Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Tom Latham, Colin de Grandhomee, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult

Afghanistan:Noor Ali Zadran could come into the side at the top of the order to replace Shahzad while Ikram Ali Khil, a lower order player, will have to be included to take the gloves. That could mean Dawlat Zadran misses out - if Afghanistan want to play three spinners - or Mujeeb Ur Rahman, after a difficult two matches, if they want to keep another quick. Whichever way they go, they may be left with just five frontline bowlers.

Possible XI: Noor Ali Zadran, Hazratullah Zarzai, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Najibullah Zadram, Rashid Khan, Ikram Ali Khil, Hamid Hassan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman.

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