Afghanistan won their first ever game against Australia

Australia's unbeaten run was cut short by Rashid Khan & Co, handing Afghanistan their first ever win over the former T20 World Cup champions. 

It wasn't close to being a straightforward win, with several twists and turns throughout. Afghanistan put on a record opening stand but also suffered a collapse of 6-23. Afghanistan ran into a rampaging Glenn Maxwell once again, but let only two other batters get to double digits. 

Here are the areas where the game was won by Afghanistan, and lost by Australia:

Starc dropped, but why did Australia bowl first?

Mitchell Starc, Australia’s man for big occasions, was benched, leaving many surprised. Captain Mitchell Marsh assured it was a decision purely based on conditions, preferring to draft in Ashton Agar’s left-arm spin. Even more surprising was their decision to field first, on a surface that was likely to turn more as the game progressed. This was a fresh pitch, but the team opting to field first after winning the toss had lost all their games here. 

Did Australia read the pitch wrong? Rashid Khan said they would have opted to bat first too, stating that the pitch would get worse to bat on.

Also watch: Highlights – Afghanistan's first ever win over Australia

Afghanistan openers start slow, but stay long

Much like their first-round game against New Zealand, Afghanistan’s openers preferred to bide their time and settle in on a challenging pitch. Agar began with a maiden, and there were as many as 22 dots in the powerplay. By the tenth over, they had just 64 on the board but hadn’t lost any wickets, giving themselves the space to accelerate. Australia hadn’t ever waited this long for a wicket in a T20I. By the 14th over, they had thrust ahead to 104-0. It laid the platform for what turned out to be a match-winning total.

Cummins pulls things back, nearly takes four-in-four

Gurbaz’s dismissal in the 16th over for 60 in 49 set off a chain reaction: yet to touch 120, Afghanistan decided to push for a strong finish, but ended up undoing some of the early work with rash shot-selection. Adam Zampa’s two-wicket over was followedo by Pat Cummins’ second hat-trick in a row, as the attempts of the middle rder to clear everything to the leg side didn’t quite work out. Afghanistan lost six wickets for 23 runs, but still ended with the third-highest total batting first at Arnos Vale.

Pitch turns Australia uneasy

Rashid’s understanding of the surface and use of his bowlers was crucial to Afghanistan’s victory. Naveen-ul-Haq struck gold in the first over itself, sending Travis Head back for a duck three balls in. Head’s failed wild swing was an early reminder that the surface wouldn’t be easy. Two overs later, a change of pace accounted for Marsh.

For the final powerplay over, Rashid brought in Mohammad Nabi’s off-spin: David Warner, silent and hardly on strike by then, had been dismissed seven times to this variety in the first six overs. An attempt by the left-hander to take him on backfired and Warner had to return, Australia’s top order had been knocked over at 33-3.


Naib’s perfect entry

With Noor Ahmad’s first over going for 11, and not a lot of runs to play with, Rashid decided to instead employ the cutters of the vastly experienced Gulbadin Naib. Brought in as the eighth option in the 11th over, Naib struck off his third ball with some extra lift. Two overs later, he snared Tim David with an angling, low delivery. Australia had lost half their side without Noor or Rashid taking a wicket, and the required run-rate spilling over eight.

Maxwell threatens a Mumbai encore

Despite all the drama around him, Maxwell remained unfazed: a helmetless six off Rashid brought back memories of that one-legged masterclass in November. He kept chipping away with one boundary per over, using his leg-side arc to keep the run rate in check. A ten-run 13th over took Maxwell to a 35-ball fifty, leaving them with 55 to get. With Pat Cummins and Ashton Agar still to come, it still looked doable. That it was Maxwell at the centre of it made the whole scenario look more and more possible. But once he fell – to Naib (who else) – the chance slipped away from Australia.

Afghanistan v Australia: The better catchers win

Noor did in St Vincent what Mujeeb Rahman couldn’t do in Mumbai: when Glenn Maxwell sliced one to short third man, Noor dived to take a sharp catch, arguably turning the game Afghanistan's way. There was the odd fielding mishap, and at least one bungled run-out chance, but Afghanistan were brilliant with their catching throughout. Karim Janat’s fantastic grab of Matthew Wade and Naib’s pluck of Agar were all key components of the late-order wrapping up early.

Australia, on the other hand, suffered from several fielding lapses: Agar had slip-ups in the outfield, Marcus Stoinis dropped one in his followthrough, Matthew Wade missed a difficult stumping chance, Head, along with Agar, dropped two more at the death. To top it, Cummins could have had four-in-four, had Warner not spilled one in the deep. It all came back to bite Australia.

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