Mr Moles and Afghanistan

Andy Moles was discarded by New Zealand. And Scotland. Kenyan cricket collapsed while he was there. And he has been overlooked by England. Moved on from county cricket. There are reasons, there are stories. But Moles hadn’t coached at international level in four years before Afghanistan brought him in.

Moles is a product of the day-in, day-out county machine. He is a born and bred Warwickshire trophy winner. He’s played in more matches than most people will ever see. He probably knows which services on the M1 have the best pastries. There isn’t a surface type he hasn’t played on, a bowling trick he hasn’t encountered or a match situation he hasn’t lived through. His brain is an encyclopedia of cricket experiences. He is a direct disciple of Bob Woolmer.

Moles is the man the English and international games moved on from, and so he went to one of the most dangerous places on earth to take his last chance, and now he has a team dangerous enough to beat the dispirited team of his birth.

It is quite a change for Moles. The life of an international sporting coach doesn’t come with strict guidelines about only eating in your hotel and watching out for kidnapping threats. But for Moles, much like this team, this is seen as a last chance to prove that he belongs at this level. Both are fighting for their future. A win over England, even this England, will help with that.

“Out bullied” is the phrase Andy Moles used when Afghanistan lost to Australia. This was not an accidental phrase. He had used bully many times in the lead-up to the match. “Afghanistan have been a bit of a bully in Associate cricket. They are bigger, stronger and they hit harder. Now we’re playing the bigger teams and they’re going to try bully us. This is an opportunity to show character and heart.”

Moles is a teacher, bullying was his lesson from the WACA.

“Boys, are you okay? Have you done your stretches, are you rotating amongst yourselves? Don’t kill yourself. Look after each other. It’s a hot day.” That is Andy Moles. To the net bowlers. Not his team. Not young men he has met before. But this is Andy Moles. A teacher. A coach. A parental force. The net bowlers, most in their teens or their early 20s, wait for Moles to move away and then chat about how they should rotate.

“They’re responsible for their game, I’m just here to give them a benefit of my experience of playing and coaching around the world,” says Moles.

There is so much talent in the Afghanistan team. Even when they collapsed against New Zealand to 59 for 6, they still made 186 against one of the best bowling attacks in this World Cup.

Their talent has not even been fully squeezed out in the matches yet. His players are capable of almost anything. You see it in the nets every time they play. Their batsmen have the ability to take almost any ball and just destroy it. Net bowlers across Australia and New Zealand have stood at the back of the nets, yelling “shot” on a seemingly continuous loop. The only time their batting has been tested in the nets is when their bowlers come on. “What do we do, we play straight,” is Moles’ much-repeated phrase.

Moles doesn’t over-coach his players. “They’re responsible for their game. I’m just here to give them a benefit of my experience of playing and coaching around the world.” A bowler wants to have a rest, he tells Moles he is too tired to go on. Moles asks him if he wants to bowl another over, just so he knows he can bowl even when he’s that tired. His bowler agrees. “That is your area, never leave there.” The bowler is Dawlat Zadran. He listens intently as Moles talks to him, and then jokes to Hassan out of earshot. The next day, against Australia, Zadran bowls an extended spell in the WACA heat where he stays in the right area.

At times you would think that Moles’ job is nets supervisor. Unlike other coaches, he doesn’t stand at the back of the nets or have long talks with people. He puts up the coaching aids. “We need a spinner over here. How are you feeling? Good, well go into the last net.” He places the shoes down for yorker practice. He gets the balls out for each net. He makes sure the right bowlers are tackling the right batsmen. He moves from place to place, a few quick words, “15 minutes”.

There are times when it’s as if he’s organising a school fete and not coaching an international cricket team.

When the umpires come into the nets to do their umpiring sighters the day before the game, Moles chats to them all like old friends. He introduces his bowlers and his captain to them as well. When Hassan is waiting for a hit, he yells out that if he doesn’t get in now, he won’t get a hit. “Five minutes boys, and then we’re done.”

Then Moles goes on to the interviews. Moles gives more interviews than other coaches. If you stop him, he’ll give you five minutes. He knows part of his job is to promote this team. He knows that this might be the last job he has where people want to ask him things.

Moles is in the Perth sun talking to another journalist about “the story of his boys”. Moles is asked this a lot. Moles gives the reporter what he needs. He talks about their personal toughness and their toughness as cricketers. He talks about what they have overcome and their new challenges. “I promote them to ask questions. Why are we doing this? I want them to challenge me as I’m trying to challenge them. And that is the learning environment.”

Around him, someone jokes that they heard a story that the Afghan players were asked about what they liked in Australia and they replied, “the women”. Yet, in this environment, it is the cricketers who are the attraction. Their stories, their pace, their hair, their headbands. They are at times cricket fetish items. Objects of lust and cricket satisfaction. Their lives have never been more different to the old stories told about them.

The refugee-camp days are their memories. Now they have to stop for selfies, tell stories about their childhood, meet politicians, learn what representing their country means, and deal with celebrity. And play cricket.

“The last job I did before here, I worked with an NGO in Cape Town with disadvantaged people. That was about building people. And I see this as the exact same challenge. If we build human beings to get them to understand the need to take responsibility, to know their role in the side – don’t blame others, don’t make excuses – if we bring all that alongside play straight, watch your grip, keep your balance when batting…”

As Moles chats to another reporter, a player walks by. He is flanked by a no-nonsense WACA security officer. But the player is smiling. He sees that Moles is trying to give a detailed answer, so he stamps his studs on the ground as loud as he can, while walking in a funny manner. He also makes funny faces as he walks past. Moles doesn’t react at all. He ignores the silliness and focuses on talking about cricket. The player is the captain, Mohammad Nabi.

Afghanistan’s cricket is not as good as it could be. Some of the players turned up nearly 10kg heavier for their pre-World Cup camp than they should be as professional athletes. They still have too many fielders who don’t seem to know how to dive. They lost a bowler from running on the pitch after seven balls. They follow up perfect yorkers with a bucket of full tosses. Their batsmen stroke the ball with ease, before bludgeoning their own innings to death.

“Every coaching job has it’s own challenges. Here they’ve not played much cricket, they’re naïve at times to the technical and tactical parts of games. So I’m trying to expose them to a different way of thinking, a different train of thought. It is an education.”

Education is never far away. You get the feeling that at times Moles is trying to educate the press as to the difference between his players and a player from England, or even a player from Scotland. “We were here in September and four of our guys were caught pushing at the ball by the second slip. Other people who come here have a knowledge and an understanding. Whereas these guys don’t really have that knowledge of history, of what happens at the WACA. Their backgrounds sometimes mean they don’t even have TVs.”

There have been times in the nets when you are watching international-quality cricket, and at others it seems that you are watching a bunch of kids learning the game. Shapoor was bowling no-balls in the nets. Moles went over and asked him if he was sure he had measured his run-up correctly. Shapoor then measured his run again, changed it slightly, and stopped bowling no-balls. The word “responsibility” was used by Moles. Shapoor had learnt his lesson.

Moles often sits the team down and takes them through a new cricket skill. Something they should already know but don’t. “A lot of the basic things that most 19-20-year-olds have from watching TV, from being exposed to quality coaching, these guys haven’t got that. It’s about dropping teardrops of ideas every now and again. When you think they’re ready for it, you drop another idea. If two or three of them think it’s good and one doesn’t, fine, I’ve got no issue with that, but later I’ll drop another piece of information. It’s their game, it’s not my game. Coaching is about trust, and if I give them information that they buy into and they change their bowling action and have a loss of form, they could lose their place in the side”.

Moles is training his boys differently from the other 13 teams. It is more classroom than cricket net. As he says, “Coaching is educating.”

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Josh Davey: wickets and wides

Josh Davey has 14 wickets at this World Cup. Josh Davey is the leading wicket-taker at this World Cup. There is every chance, until a couple of weeks ago, you had no idea who Josh Davey is.

The problem for the Associate cricketers at the tournament is people learn who you are. Davey is a former middle-order batsman for Middlesex with seven wickets to his name in first-class cricket. No one who hadn’t played against Davey before had any idea what sort of a player he was. There was no reason too.

But as the tournament goes on, people look at you. Even when Marvan Atapattu admitted before the game that Sri Lanka hadn’t done much research on the Scottish, they had done some. They had four previous games to go on. They would have watched them.

Then there is the media. Davey is not a confident speaker but, as equal sixth on the wicket-taking list coming in to this game, he was put up for interview. His name was mentioned in most preview pieces and, if he walked around Hobart this morning, he would have seen his words – “SCOTLAND WARY OF MALINGA THREAT” – plastered on Hobart Mercury billboards.

Josh Davey, and Scotland, have entered a new world. They are the most prepared and professional team that Scotland has ever had. They came within a Shapoor Zadran shuffle across the stumps of their first-ever World Cup win. When New Zealand went for a net-run-rate jaunt, they took seven wickets off them. They gave away what could have been a chaseable target against England, and made over 300 against Bangladesh, before failing to get enough wickets.

But they haven’t won a game. Here, the second the ball didn’t swing, they weren’t going to win.

Davey was targeted by the Sri Lankans. Afterwards, Kyle Coetzer said he wasn’t – but Sri Lanka had 36 runs off nine overs, then hit 10 off Davey’s first over. They knew about him. Maybe they hadn’t done hours of research but they knew enough that he was Scotland’s wicket-taker and their biggest hope of an upset. Associate cricketers can’t surprise after four games of a World Cup. Without swing, his 125kph wasn’t going to bring down Kumar Sangakkara or Tillakaratne Dilshan. After five overs, Davey had gone for 48.

At one stage, Dilshan got down to sweep Davey, the bowler dropped short and Dilshan just pulled him from the same position. It went for six.

Other than Rob Taylor, Scotland’s bowlers were often treated much like that. Lahiru Thirimmane called them weak and medium-pacers. Alasdair Evans is the only Scotland bowler that Matthew Cross didn’t stand up to the stumps for. He bowled well for practically all of the game, taking 1 for 26 from his first six overs. Then the seventh over happened. This was not a rest over, it was biblical.

Third man was up. Third man was back. Third man was up. Third man was back. All in one over. Preston Mommsen was trying to find the right fielding format to stop Sangakkara, and working out that nothing stops Sangakkara, not a Mack truck, not an asteroid, not a shark-octopus hybrid, nothing. Not even a revolving third man.

The first five balls went six, four, four, four, four, with a wide thrown in as well. Evans had tried bowling tricks and fielding positions, but there was nothing that could stop Kumar.

By the time they got to the last ball, Mommsen had no men back on the leg side. Evans moved from around the wicket to over. It was the most telegraphed wide full ball ever bowled, but there were no more options. Sangakkara moved across to hit it to the leg side, as every single person in the ground expected. He tried to tickle it around the corner. Taylor at short fine leg saw this, and just turned and ran towards the boundary. He was several steps in that direction before he realised the ball hadn’t gone to the boundary but had just been mishit to backward square.

You know you are struggling as a side when your players turn and head to the boundary before the ball has been delivered.

Scotland passed 200 for the third time in this tournament, and the third time in their entire World Cup history. Their batsmen were not annihilated; they generally helped in their dismissals. When Mommsen and Freddie Coleman were together, you saw the best of Scotland. The problem was their partnership was more than half the total score.

When they were bowling to Sri Lanka in the batting Powerplay, Mommsen had to turn back to Davey. With fine leg up, and a backward square in the circle as well, Davey’s first ball was a wide that missed leg stump by a considerable distance. With third man up, the next ball was wide of off stump and guided for four. The third, he had Dilshan out. Later he would take the wickets of Mahela Jayawardene and Sangakkara in the same over.

His figures would read 3 for 68, with three of Sri Lanka’s all-time greats in his pocket. But he wasn’t even trusted to finish his entire ten overs. And his wickets came when the total was already too big for Scotland to chase. His entire day was Scotland’s tournament so far.

They’ll be happy with what they have, but they wanted so much more.

Josh Davey has bowled 22 wides at this World Cup. Josh Davey is the leading wide-deliverer at this World Cup. There is every chance, after this Saturday, that you will never see Josh Davey at this level again.

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Two Men Out: England funeral edition

Here is my latest cricket analysis podcast with John Buchanan and Trent Woodhill.

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Maxwell time

Maxwell time has not yet begun.   Still not.  Nope.  It will come. Soon.  Wait for it.  There it is, a zap over mid off in the middle of a mini-collapse, its stunning orthodoxy is shocking to the eyes.  

 

Reverse sweep, hard, for one.  Slog straight up in the air, Maxwell’s air, it teases a bunch of fielders.  Defense.  Uncontrolled pop to the boundary.  And then a controlled ping over it that looked so pure it was unMaxwellian. 

 

Turn to leg.  Malinga Yorker that causes split leg defensive shot, he almost rides his bat like he’s in a rodeo, in no way is this a cricket shot.  A back away and block for another Yorker.  Another Yorker handled.  A yorker through cover, Malinga is averted.  A sweep-kerching disappears somewhere beyond the deep midwicket fielder.  

 

Out of control one hand sweep. A lofted safe and controlled reverse zlonk to the rope, yes safe and controlled in the Maxwell time.  A casual jaunt down the wicket to slog to midwicket for a couple.  The same shot for the same result.  The left foot goes off the pitch, right off it, the ball comes in at leg stump fast from Malinga, it is another yorker, Maxwell throws every single part of himself into the shot that clangs into the cover boundary.  

 

Another Yorker from Malinga is bunted for one.  There is almost regret on Maxwell’s face as a full toss is only mishit for two less than a boundary.  There is actual joy on Maxwell’s face when the next one is helped, encouraged, persuaded to cross the mid wicket rope just so he can enjoy his 50 off 26 balls, ding ding ding. 

 

A failed pick up flick ends in one.  He is beaten outside what would have been his offstump if he hadn’t backed away a metre before the bowler had even got into delivery stride.   Turns the ball to fine leg, and would have got two if he wasn’t so frustrated at the lack of six hit.  The front leg visits square leg and Malinga follows him, hitting him in the guts.  Gets a single to fine leg with a coaching manual leg glance.  Then a sweep bonk four.  

 

Smart move outside off for classy plop sweep between two fielders for another boundary.  Aerial over cover, because he can, gets two.  The ball is flighted, it’s on middle and off, it is a good legspin delivery to some batsmen, biff, mid wicket, four.  A cover slice for one.  Mathews is just about in stride when Maxwell reverses himself, and yet, it is like he has an hour to wait as the length ball come towards him before the thwak of the reverse pull flies off to the rope. 

 

A bash to mid off, no run.  A leg side flip takes the top edge and goes very high, there is a man under it who can only drop it after a very quick dash, whilst allowing three runs.  Slower ball forces another mistake with an aerial bunt for one.  The stand back and wild swing goes clang off the bat, but still reaches the rope.  A well hit drive finds a fielder in the ring, and he thinks about a single before remembering slogging is more fun.  A short slower ball is pulled with a flick of the wrists; it is largely innocuous until you notice that when it hit the bat there was a kaboom and it actually landed in the crowd.  

 

A wide from Perera is looked at with disgust from Maxwell when he realises he can’t reach it to hit it for six.  A two is taken from hard running.  Back away and pow over cover.  Maxwell time gets tense at half past 90, and A sweep from Mathews goes straight up in the air, Kumar Sangakkara dashs back to just get there in time, but still drop it, two runs are completed as Kumar punches himself in disgust.  A single is taken to cover.  Two from an orthodox back away lofted drive.  Shuffle to mid on for one, 99 now.  

 

Fast and straight from Malinga moves Maxwell infront of the stumps, Malinga appeals to a quickly disappearing umpire Gould, Maxwell completes a run, the crowd wait to see whether it was a run for Maxwell, he has a chat with Ian Gould, who finally lifts his leg for the scorers, it seems Maxwell does not want to bring up his hundred with a fraudulent run, that isn’t supposed to be how he does it.  

 

After Shane Watson seemingly takes an age to get Maxwell back on strike, a clip over cover gets a scampered two, Maxwell is celebrating on the second run, maiden international hundred, he swings his bat aggressively at the changeroom, takes off his helmet and then embraces Watson and cries on his shoulder. 

 

Maxwell needs to wipe tears from his eyes before facing the next ball, a single to long on.  

 

Mishit from Maxwell finds a catching mid on, there is a check for a no ball, and Maxwell has a cheeky smile, but it is a kayo, Maxwell time is over.  

Jason Holder and ghosts

There was an imposing figure out on the WACA pitch the day before the game between India and West Indies. He was animated, he was tall, and he was passionate. Beside him was a shorter man. Who listened and smiled, occasionally looking at the deep backward square boundary like he was eyeing it off. In the nets there was another man who picked up a well-hit drive, spun around and prepared to launch a throw.

They were all spirits. Curtly. Richie. Clive.

There was another figure in the nets. Chatting, planning, working, training and hoping. One who could bat, bowl and field.

Jason Holder isn’t a scary fast bowler. Jason Holder isn’t pure top-order swagger. Jason Holder isn’t a cat in the field. Jason Holder is a young man who bats at No. 9, bowls medium pace and leads a fractured team. It’s an odd choice for a leader. An odd choice for your only hope.

It wasn’t a contest until he came in. In fact, before he came in, it was the end of West Indies. T20 had ruined their game. Infighting ruined their team. Old tactics clouded their strategies. Ireland had ruined their tournament. Business would end their future. They were ghosts who didn’t know they were already dead.

They say West Indies bat until nine. Today it started at nine.

Watching Dwayne Smith and Chris Gayle come out to bat was like watching a cricket team who hadn’t been paying any attention to the World Cup. A makeshift sloggy T20 opener and an ageing franchise star. Smith failed to guide the ball to third man. Smith failed to play a pull shot. Smith failed to run between the wickets. Smith failed. Gayle was dropped twice on the way to a 45-minute, 27-ball 21. On the way there, he helped run out Marlon Samuels.

At No. 4 was Jonathan Carter, a man without a single ODI before getting picked in this squad. He was out sweeping, like so many of the Associate players had been this week. Denesh Ramdin has a career batting average of 24.71. He was in at No. 5. At the start of last year he batted eight. This sentence is already longer than his innings. Lendl Simmons has been the form man of West Indies’ batting. In his last five innings he had scores of 45, 55, 102, 50 and 0. At No. 6 he looked cool, calm and in control, right up until the ball was caught at deep backward square. A six was scored second ball by Andre Russell, but there were only two other scoring shots in his brief innings.

West Indies, 85 for 7. Doom. Apocalypse. Ghosts.

At nine, the innings started.

In his first 20 deliveries, Holder scored six runs. There was no panic as the world condemned his team; Holder was just batting. When a partnership had formed, and his eye was in, he played shots. Not the other way around, like the other batsmen. There were straight sixes from fast bowlers. There was use of the feet to the spinners. He rotated the strike, built partnerships, batted with Darren Sammy, coached Jerome Taylor and took the West Indies to something. Not a total, but the hint of one.

Holder’s innings wouldn’t change history, it wouldn’t inspire the tiny nations that make up his team badge, it wouldn’t win the World Cup. But it was something, and the only something West Indies had.

There were two key moments as West Indies ran out on the ground to bowl. One was from Curtly Ambrose screaming at the team “We can win this”. The other was Holder, running ahead of his team on to the pitch.

They had the spirit of Curtly with them, they had his pitch, and they had a leader who was taking control.

They bowled like they knew this. Taylor was smooth. Holder was steady. Russell was quick. Kemar Roach was quicker. They attacked, they bounced balls, they lost control of the ball, and they pushed as hard as they could.

When pace and length wouldn’t help, Holder played with Virat Kohli’s ego, and won. For one ball he put all three men out on the leg side boundary, gestured for a short ball, and watched Roach bowl a wayward full toss instead of a bouncer to complete his elaborate bluff.

Holder brought on Dwayne Smith. Smith had not bowled in his last nine ODIs. The last time he did, his four overs went wicketless for 68 runs. But he also took 5 for 17 for Barbados when Guyana failed to chase 69 recently. Smith had Suresh Raina in his first over – it was some hunch. There was a time, when Holder’s Chennai Super Kings team-mates were in – Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, MS Dhoni and R Ashwin – where you could see a very smart cricket brain at work.

Then at six wickets down, and 19 runs to get, something stopped. Holder had tried his quick bowlers. Russell’s last over had gone for ten. Roach’s last over had gone for nine. The spirit of Curtly had been replaced by the awful spin of Samuels and the gentle wobble of Smith.

The cricket-watching world rose up as one and abused Holder as Dhoni and Ashwin nudged their way to the final 19 runs. They seemed to believe West Indies had given up. And the man who they thought gave up, was the only man who never really seemed too.

Holder became the man fans abused for not closing out the match. Holder made mistakes, but without him, there would have been no mistakes to make. Holder opened up the match. Holder held the match up. Holder made the match a match.

Holder is not imposing. Holder is not a legend. Holder is not a ghost. Holder is West Indies as they are now. Imperfect. Flawed. Barely alive.

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World Cup geek squad podcast

After being outed as a new breed of cricket geek, I’m about to confirm that.

For this World Cup I’m chatting to John Buchanan, and hopefully Trent Woodhill, about the trends and tactics of the World Cup.

This is for proper cricket nerds, it’s not full of penis gags, it’s full of World Cup trends and the like.

The first episode is here. Flexible batting orders and other stuff.

The second is here. Four men out, left arm freaks and my endless search for keeping analytics.

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Warner’s WACA

Shane Watson is dropped for bad form in his last ten ODIs, spread out over more than a year.

Third ball of the match David Warner gets a short ball from Dawlat Zadran. He moves back into position. The ball should fly over deep midwicket. Instead it limps back to mid-on. Warner drops his arms in disappointment and then looks at the wicket, as if it has let him down. As if this lack of pace is somehow an affront to his personality.

This is, after all, Warner’s wicket. The wicket where he scored his Test high score. One hundred and eighty runs from one hundred and fifty nine balls. With a red ball. During the day. Wearing whites. Now he was after Afghanistan.

This is Warner’s WACA. And the pitch had better wake up and recognise it.

Can Aaron Finch, or the Australian top, middle and lower order, handle the swinging ball?

Eight overs into the match, Afghanistan has two slips in place. Warner has hit two boundaries. Australia have hit two boundaries. Afghanistan’s greatest bowler Hamid Hassan is bowling on cricket’s bounciest surface. At the other end, Dawlat is bowling a very tidy spell: four overs, one wicket maiden, and only 14 runs. Afghanistan have not landed any killer blows, but they are there, still.

First ball of the ninth over, Warner crashes a drive through the off side. Last ball of the over Warner crashes a pull through midwicket. The next over Hassan touches 145kph and then crashes into Warner three times.

There seem to be only four batsmen in the Australia side, and then gamble, gamble, gamble, and gamble.

In the first five years of his ODI career, Warner was ok. He averaged barely more than 30, he struck at 83. He had two ODI hundreds, both in one series against Sri Lanka. He had been in and out of the side.

In ODIs, David Warner hasn’t always been David Warner. Trapped in this limbo between T20 Warner and Test Match Warner, he has just muddled through.

Warner could bat like he does in Tests for 50 balls and like he does in T20s for 25 balls, and destroy most teams. But it’s that pacing of innings he has seemed to struggle with. In a game of role players, he’s never truly understood what his role his.

A strike rate of less than 100 would suggest he’s not been told to smash it from the start. And a conversion rate of two hundreds in his first 50 games means he’s not really playing for the long haul.

What should ODI Warner be?

There are three knockout games to come: can Australia win all three without a frontline spinner?

Pull. Pull. Cover drive. Pull. Pull. Slap. Slap. Pull. Cut. Cut. Drive. These are David Warner’s first 11 boundaries. These are Australia’s first 11 boundaries.

It is batting. There is little slogging. Warner waits for bad balls, he puts them away. On rare occasions, he gets impetuous and treats normal balls as bad balls for the hell of it. But this is just quality batting. Quality batting at over a strike rate of over 100. He has 79 off 68. Or, more importantly, 79 out of 109.

There is Steven Smith at the other end, doing a very good Damien Martyn ODI innings imitation, but he is barely needed. When Smith scores a boundary, it’s not a slap. It’s not a pull. It’s just a tickle down the leg side. It is the Rest of Australia’s first boundary.

Is Mitchell Johnson still capable of destroying entire nations with the ball?

It doesn’t matter how good your form or rhythm is or whether it is swinging or seaming: if you are a fast bowler, and the batsman is scoring off you at the WACA, you are going to bowl a short ball to sort the batsman out. That is your birthright on this pitch.

Hassan tried this with Warner. Around the wicket, trying to squeeze those muscular little arms, he dropped short. Warner clubbed it. It was more of a broadside at the Associates than anything the ICC is planning to do. Mid-on saw the shot and turned to retrieve the ball. It clunked its way down to long-on.

Hassan barely turned around to see it.

If the rumours are true, Pat Cummins might not play again this tournament due to an injury, leaving Josh Hazlewood with a few very important games for a man his age.

When Warner brought up his 100th run with an inside-edged single, Australia had not yet reached 150. It was barely 25 overs into the match. Warner had enough time to make another hundred. Maybe two more.

A few overs later, he was dropped off the bowling of Mohammad Nabi. It was a chance, a tough one that hit Afsar Zazai on the chest behind the stumps.

Warner had been almost mute in comparison with what happened next.

He swept a six. From the fast-medium stylings of Dawlat. You know what they say about it being hard to hit low full tosses for six? Warner suggests otherwise from the next ball. The crowd catches another one. The next one almost takes the hand clean off a small boy. When Afghanistan find the yorker, Warner finds the edge and still gets a boundary. When they miss the yorker, he just hits them for six. Afghanistan try full and wide, Warner ignores the straight and leg-side boundaries and just scores fours through point.

Warner had long ago taken down Hassan. In this period he adds both Zadrans, Dawlat and Shapoor. Dawlat never recovers.

For the second time, Warner hits 10 ten boundaries without Smith hitting one. Five of them are sixes. He bests his previous best. He scores Australia’s highest individual score in a World Cup. Australia are going okay against Afghanistan. Warner is ending them.

Is this Australia team really good enough to win the World Cup?

The ball flies straight up in the air. It stays up there for a long time. Nabi is under it long enough to finishing writing a prequel to War and Peace. The ball comes down with ice on it. It hits his hands, and tries to escape. Nabi holds it with as little of his hands as you can to take a catch. Warner is out; Afghanistan will not reach his individual score.

Warner has batted Australia beyond critical questions. He’s batted them into a beautiful land of pull, slap and crash. Warner makes 178 off 133 out of 274. Afghanistan make 143 off 225.

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