Bristol will welcome five-time tournament winners Australia as they open their campaign against an Afghanistan side competing in just their second World Cup. Australia begin as one of the favorites to claim the trophy whereas Afghanistan will be hoping they can spring a few surprises as they continue to grow as a cricketing nation.
Recent away series victories against India and Pakistan mean the Aussies are brimming with confidence. They have responded well since Aaron Finch took over the captaincy from Tim Paine and are ready to post big totals at this year’s World Cup. Finch, Warner, Smith and Khawaja are all capable of some serious big-hitting and are likely to show this against Afghanistan.
Afghanistan are the lowest ranked team in the competition and go into their first match as rank outsiders. In spite of their underdog status, a promising warm-up victory against Pakistan will have filled the squad with huge belief. This victory came in the same stadium that will host their opening match of the tournament which can only be seen as a positive for them.
In Rashid Khan Pakistan have arguably the best white-ball bowler in the world right now. The 20-year-old leg spinner has taken 125 wickets since the 2015 World Cup and will look to test the Australian batsmen on Saturday. Pakistan have a real problem at the top of the order however and will need to do everything in their power to not lose early wickets against a potent Aussie bowling line-up.
That bowling line-up for Australia contains the paciest opening pair of the tournament in Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc. Cummins topped the test bowling rankings earlier this year whilst Starc has 145 ODI wickets to his name. Throw leg spinner Adam Zampa into the mix and they should have more than enough bowling talent to beat Afghanistan.
Australia’s batting line-up is also one of the most feared in world cricket. Aaron Finch and David Warner are arguably the most powerful opening pair at this year’s tournament. Steve Smith generally bats at number 4 and he hit a classy century against tournament favorites England in a recent warm up match.
Australia beat England in that match but were booed throughout. The ball tampering scandal that left Australian cricket in disarray last year has not been forgotten by the home fans. Whether or not this will have a negative impact on the team or simply spur them on remains to be seen. In Smith’s case, it seems as though he thrived under the scrutiny.
Regardless whether they are jeered or not on Saturday, they will definitely have too much quality for Afghanistan in their tournament opener. Some of the competition’s stronger teams will be hoping the underdogs can do them a favor by upsetting the Aussies but anything other than an Australia win would be a huge shock.