Mumbai, Nov 6: Giant-killers of the ICC Men's ODI World Cup 2023, Afghanistan face Australia, the most successful team in the tournament's history, at the Wankhede Stadium here on Tuesday with an eye firmly on a place in the semifinals.
With India and South Africa assured of a place in the semifinals, Australia also have one foot in the knockout stage, the battle for fourth place in the semifinals has virtually turned into a shoot-out between three teams -- New Zealand, Pakistan and Afghanistan -- all with eight points.
Pakistan and New Zealand have played eight matches each and have only one remaining while Afghanistan have played seven and have two matches in hand. Winning the two matches will seal their berth in the semifinal but it seems easier said than done as Afghanistan face Australia and South Africa in their last two matches in the 2023 World Cup.
Afghanistan, who caused a big sensation in the tournament by stunning defending champions England, go into Tuesday's clash buoyed by three consecutive wins against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. But Australia is a different kettle of fish and Afghanistan will have to play out of their skins to put it across the five-time World Champions who have recovered from a slow start to win five matches. Pat Cummins' side had lost to India in their opening match and they fell to South Africa too.
Australia too have one more match to play after they clash with Afghanistan as they take on Bangladesh on November 11 in Pune -- winning one of these two matches will take them to 12 points and seal their berth in the semifinals.
Their hopes of qualifying look set to be boosted with the likely availability of key players Mitch Marsh and Glenn Maxwell after they missed the victory over England on Saturday. However, that will leave skipper Pat Cummins and the team management with a selection dilemma as they try and squeeze all their stars into the XI.
It remains to be seen whether all-rounders Marcus Stoinis and Cameron Green make way for Marsh and Maxwell, or whether one of the specialist batters is set for a stint on the sidelines.
Australia have class players in every department, so Afghanistan will need to be at their best if they are to push the 2015 World Cup champions.
David Warner has been Australia's best batter in this World Cup with 428 runs in seven runs. The problems have not done as well as Warner and the next successful batter is Marnus Labuschagne with 277 runs in seven innings.
Adam Zampa is their best bowler so far and the most successful so far with 19 wickets. The Australia spinner has been a handful for opposition batters throughout the tournament and currently has a total of 19 wickets at an average of 17.15.
While Afghanistan have their bevvy of quality spinners, whether their batters can handle Zampa remains to be seen as the Australian has proven a class above in India thus far.
Zampa failed to pick up a wicket during Australia's opening match of the tournament but has since recorded a trio of four-wicket hauls and a pair of three-wicket hauls in an impressive stretch of leg-spin bowling.
Afghanistan's trump card is their spinners, who have carried them to this position. But their batters too have done well with Hashmatullah Shahidi, Rahmat Shah and Rahmanullah Gurbaz leading the charge. Shahidi has scored 282 runs with two half-centuries while Rahmat has scored 262. Gurbaz is not far behind as he has compiled 234 runs.
But more importantly, Gurbaz has an ominous strike rate of 99.15 and a fast start during the Powerplay will be crucial for Afghanistan if they are to trouble Australia. Gurbaz has scored quite quickly and, if he gets going early, is capable of putting pressure on the Australia bowlers and giving his side the ascendancy.
With both teams needing a win to secure their place in the semifinals, the clash will be decided on which team applies itself better on a given day.
However, Afghanistan have never beaten Australia in ODIs so far with the Aussies winning all three matches played between them.
With the Wankhede pitch helping the team batting first, it is likely to be a good contest with both teams going for a win. (IANS)