The County Ground in Bristol gets its first taste of World Cup 2019 action on Saturday when it hosts match four of the tournament as Afghanistan and Australia kick off their campaigns in a day/night fixture.
Twelve months ago, Australia’s preparation for the World Cup was in tatters as ‘sandpapergate’ and injuries saw the team slump to one of its worst ever periods of ODI cricket, winning just two of 14 matches.
However, something happened on March 8 this year. With the team already down 0-2 and heading for a certain series loss away against India, Australia was able to not only win that day (despite a century from Virat Kohli), but they also won the next two matches to clinch the series.
What has followed since – a five-match clean sweep against Pakistan and winning all six warm-up / practice matches – sees Australia coming into the World Cup with a 14-match winning streak, effectively making them the hottest team in cricket right now.
Despite an absolute thumping earlier in the week against England, Afghanistan also come into the tournament with some solid ODI form under their belt on the back of a 12-6 record over the past 12 months.
Obviously the biggest factor regarding Afghanistan’s chances of being competitive this tournament rests on how receptive the UK pitches will be to the spin of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi.
If Afghanistan, who have never beaten Australia (0-2), are forced to bowl first and deal with a County Ground pitch that is more green than brown, they could find themselves struggling to take ten wickets, and if that is the case, they will have a big chase ahead of them.
AFG vs AUS ODI – Players to watch out for
All eyes will be on Aaron Finch’s front pad as he faces the quick bowlers. Since the 2015 World Cup, Finch has the highest percentage (48.21%) of dismissals (min. 25) via either LBW or bowled.
His duel against Dawlat Zadran in the opening overs of Australia’s innings will be pivotal. Zadran’s game plan will be simple – bowl fast, full and targeting middle stump, a tactic used to great effect against Finch by almost every quick bowler recently.
22 of Kane Richardson’s 29 ODI wickets have been collected when defending a total.
Rahmat Shah boasts an impressive ODI average of 49.00 in the British Isles (441 runs, SR 75.77, HS 113).
Steve Smith has produced four fifty plus scores from his last four ‘practice’ ODI matches. Afghanistan have won eight of their last 13 completed ODIs at neutral venues.