Luke Wright’s brutal unbeaten 99 and a ruthless bowling display ensured England kicked off their ICC World Twenty20 title defence in style with a commanding 116-run victory over Afghanistan today.
The Sussex all-rounder vindicated his selection at No.3 in the batting order with a devastating display of hitting, finding the rope on eight occasions and clearing it six times to set England on their way to 196-5.
Wright fell agonisingly short of becoming the first Englishman to reach three figures in the shortest format of the international game when his last shot of the innings was stopped on the midwicket boundary.
The daunting target always looked too steep for Afghanistan, however England’s bowlers were not taking anything for granted and skittled the minnows for just 80 in reply – their joint lowest-ever score in T20 international cricket.
Jade Dernbach (2-16), Stuart Broad (2-10), Samit Patel (2-6) and Graeme Swann (2-22) all claimed two wickets apiece as Afghanistan exit the competition after back-to-back Group A defeats, while England and India progress to the Super Eights
England, who were asked to bat first by Afghanistan captain Nawroz Mangal, actually amassed their third-highest Twenty20 total off just 19 overs as the minnows made a spectacular start with the ball.
Pace bowler Shapoor Zadran ignited early hopes of a major upset when capping off a scoreless opening over with the wicket of Craig Kieswetter, who played on to his stumps for a six-ball duck.
Wright joined Alex Hales in the middle and it wasn’t until the fifth over of the innings that the batsmen managed to get on top of a pumped-up Afghanistan attack.
Both right-handers found the rope and Wright cleared it for the first time as 23 runs were added from over five. A further 14 then came off the sixth to bring up the 50 partnership from 30 balls.
Hales (31 off 27) fell in unfortunate circumstances at the beginning of the 10th over, run out backing up after Wright had driven spinner Karim Sadiq firmly back down the ground, only for the bowler to get a deflection on to the stumps.
Wright reached his second T20 international half-century in the 13th over off 34 balls and pressed down firmly on the accelerator from that point, hitting off-spinner Mohammad Nabi for four, six, four in successive deliveries in the 16th.
Eoin Morgan played a useful hand alongside Wright, scoring 27 from 23 balls and depositing Nabi over midwicket, before mistiming a full-toss from Izatullah Dawlatzai straight to Afghanistan skipper Mangal.
Ill-discipline crept into the Afghanistan bowling and field side and both Jos Buttler (15) and Jonny Bairstow (12) capitalised with lively cameos to help England threaten 200.
Wright was stranded one run short of joining Brendan McCullum as the second century-make of the day, however his exploits gave England’s bowlers plenty to work with when they took to the field.
Pace pair Steven Finn and Dernbach set the tone with a wicket apiece in their opening overs as Afghanistan’s top-order failed to cope with a hostile opening burst.From 2-2 the Afghans quickly slumped to 26-8 courtesy of a mixture of rash shot selection and superb fielding from England.
Captain Broad led by example with a sharp return catch to dismiss opposite number Mangal and Bairstow eclipsed his skipper with a stunning diving effort in the deep after Buttler had run out Karim Sadiq.
Spinners Patel and Swann quickly got in on the attack but Gulbodin Naib’s career-best 44 from 32 at least saw Afghanistan avoid the ignominy of posting the lowest-ever T20 total.