Afghanistan v New Zealand
Saturday June 8, 12:30
Live on Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Main Event
Afghans need to learn to be more clinical
Afghanistan are the neutrals' favourite. You'll do well to find a side whose players are as proud to play for their country as these or are as delighted to just be a part of cricket's blue-ribband event.
But being there is one thing and winning a match at this World Cup is quite another. The Australia match was always going to be a struggle but against Sri Lanka they may have blown their best chance at grabbing that all-important victory. Not only are Sri Lanka alongside them the weakest side at the competition but the Afghans had plenty of chances to win the game.
Instead, they conceded about 20 too many, failed to capitalise on a good start with the bat and got little or nothing from their tail in terms of runs, losing by 32 in the end. All part of the learning process.
Black Caps need to get team selection right
The good news is that New Zealand are two from two. The fact that those wins were against two of the three weakest sides at the tournament 'on paper' (at this rate South Africa could join that trio) with their next match against the third member coming up, helps explain why their price hasn't come in that much from an initial 13.012/1; they're 10.519/2 on the winner market on the Exchange.
Getting wins early on is the name of the game. Sooner or later a rival will suffer an upset or a game will be rained off and these early wins will be worth their weight in gold.
The bad news is they should have beaten Bangladesh far more comfortably. Chasing 244 should have been pretty straightforward. Instead, it was down to a gem of an innings by Ross Taylor and the cool head of number eight Mitchell Santner that they got there with just two wickets to spare.
One of Jimmy Neesham or Colin de Grandhomme has to go. They can either bring in a specialist bowler - spinner Ish Sodhi or Tim Southee when he's fit- or add a specialist batsman like Henry Nicholls to the middle-order. Neesham and CDG are a bit too similar and you don't need the pair of them.
Cider time at Taunton
Taunton is famous for being one of the highest-scoring grounds in the world. Lovely batting track, short boundaries, no excuses for not posting at least 300 first up.
Plenty of pints of cider will no doubt be consumed throughout the day, this being Somerset and all. With the Aghan fans in permanent party mood, it should be a good day out.
Making a case for a big outsider- Rashid Khan and co are 17/4 - usually needs to involve at least one of these: a big toss bias, the chance of rain and a reduction in overs or a tricky wicket that could make it all a bit of a lottery.
In the absence of any of those, it's not easy making a case for an upset. So we won't.
When the likes of Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson are bowling missiles at you with the new ball, the safest place to be as a batsman is down the order. Let the top order face all that fire. Best come in when facing all-rounders and spinners.
With scores of 51 and 43 and a total of 91, number seven batsman Najibullah Zadran is Afghanistan's top batsman so far. He's top-scored in both matches. Stats from the last four years suggest that's no flash in the pan. He might just be fifth for most runs scored over that period but he played a lot less matches than some of the others. Of greater relevance is his average of 35. Only Rahmat Shah can better it (38).
The best thing about Najibullah Zadran is his price; a massive 14/1. We'll say it again. He top scored in both matches so far.
Looking at the man-of-the-match market here and assuming we're pretty sure NZ will win this, I think the chances of a Kiwi bowler taking four or more wickets are greater than that of a batsman scoring 100. First off because the Kiwis may be chasing just over 200 if they bowl first. Secondly, Afghanistan have some serious bowlers even beyond Rashid Khan so it's not like the Martin Guptills, Colin Munros and Kane Williamsons just have to rock up in order to score 100.
With that in mind, I'm splitting stakes between the rapid Matt Henry (10/1) who is the tournament's leading wicket-taker no less with seven...and Trent Boult (14/1). The left-arm swinger hasn't quite been at his best but he'll have few better chances than this one to grab a load of wickets and pick up the match gong.