NEW DELHI: Jos Buttler couldn’t have asked for more. Tailor-made conditions for England’s batters, inviting them to go the whole hog. He would ideally want the much-vaunted English batting lineup to show its true colours at the Arun Jaitley Stadium here against a faltering Afghanistan side.
After all, the deck in Delhi has been ideal for stroke-making. The first match saw South Africa rattle up 428-5 against Sri Lanka, and the Lankans responded with 326. South Africa’s total was the highest-ever in 50-over World Cup; the game also recorded the fastest century in World Cup history-a 49-baller by Aiden Markram.
The second game had India chase down a challenging 272-8 posted by Afghanistan in just 35 overs, with Rohit Sharma blasting an 84-ball 135.
It’s evident the pitches at the Arun Jaitley Stadium are nothing short of nightmarish for the bowlers. The Delhi venue has the worst bowling average (51.32) in the World Cup so far. That means wickets are hard to come by, as the batters make merry.
England would not only look for the two points, but also give a booster dose to the net run-rate (NRR). At the business end of the tournament, in all likelihood, there is going to be a scramble for a spot in the semifinals and a superior NRR would be the differentiating factor.
Buttler and his teammates would love to go back to the 2019 edition and play out England’s match against Afghanistan from their memory banks. A little stimulus to spring them into full throttle. England smashed their way to 397-6 in Manchester, registering their highest-ever World Cup total. They won the game by 150 runs. A performance on similar lines would be needed in Delhi on Sunday.
One player that the English team is eagerly waiting to get into match action is Ben Stokes, but it’s still not clear whether the talismanic allrounder is available for selection or not.
Senior batter Joe Root was largely non-committal on Stokes’ availability status. “Bency (Stokes) is getting better day by day. He had a long bat in training and seems to be improving. So, all good signs,” Root said at the pre-match press conference. “You all know, we as a team, with Ben in it, are going to be much stronger. But he’s got to be fully fit to play. We’ll see whether it’s tomorrow (against Afghanistan) or next game or further down the line.”
All the NRR talks aside, Root didn’t want to play down a “banana skin” team like Afghanistan – even though the Afghans lost their first two games to Bangladesh and India.
“Every team in this tournament poses different threats, you just got to be adaptable to combat that. They (Afghanistan) obviously have got some world-class players. From my point of view, we need to keep getting better,” Root said. “This is another opportunity for us to keep building the momentum and progression towards the business end of the tournament. We need to make sure that we are there where we need to be at the backend of the tournament.”
Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott, an Englishman, will need to plot the downfall of his former team if the Afghans intend to upset England’s applecart.
“We make sure (in the backroom) that each game we are going into, we have that belief that we will be able to win. I certainly believe that our boys can win,” Trott said.