Luke Wright steps up at No 3 in superb style
England 196-5 Afghanistan 80 (England win by 116 runs)
There was to be no romantic outcome, no astonishing feats of derring-do. Not, at any rate, for Afghanistan in the World Twenty20 in Colombo last night.
Instead, it was England, the defending champions, who won at a gallop, propelled thrillingly to an unassailable total by none other than Luke Wright, otherwise known as the new Kevin Pietersen, and then humbling their opponents by dismissing them for 80.
England, who made 196 for 5, won by 116 runs. There was something mildly embarrassing about the proceedings. True, England did exactly what they had to do – the performance of champions almost – but all talk of Afghanistan pushing them all the way to the end was rendered piffle.
The overwhelming nature of the performance, good news for the winners, bad news for the tournament, confirms England's place in the Super Eight stage of the competition. They play India in their second group match tomorrow but it is an academic contest since Afghanistan have already been eliminated by virtue of their two losses.
By any standards Wright was wonderful. He drove, carved and bludgeoned a blistering path to an unbeaten 99 from 55 balls, the joint highest score by an England batsman in Twenty20 internationals. There were eight fours and six sixes in an exhibition of thunderous hitting which put a potentially tricky opening match beyond any doubt.
When England won this tournament two years ago, their No 3 and man of the tournament was Pietersen. For well-chronicled reasons, he is no longer a member of the team after a spectacular dispute with management and colleagues and could only sit and admire in a studio up the road from the ground in his new role as pundit.
Wright was drafted into the role at the last minute when Ravi Bopara, earmarked for the position for months, suffered a dramatic loss of form. England had no alternative but to make emergency arrangements.
While he might not have Pietersen's array of shots or ability to improvise, Wright strikes the ball mightily hard and his straight hitting would knock the spots off a leopard. He is far more discerning than in his early days in the late middle order and the 117 he made for Melbourne Stars in the Australia Big Bash earlier this year changed perceptions of him for ever.
How distant Wright's sustained assault seemed at the start of the match. The first over was a wicket maiden, Craig Kieswetter being bowled by the sixth ball as he played on to a delivery that bounced more than he might have expected.
It demanded circumspection and after four overs England had tottered to 15 for 1. The fifth over changed the course of the match. It yielded 23 runs as Wright and Alex Hales both hit fours and sixes off Shapoor Zadran. The sixth over brought another 14 and while there was a further period of consolidation, the last five overs brought 87 runs.
Hales was unlucky to be run out by a bowler's deflection while backing up but Eoin Morgan joined Wright in another big partnership, of 72 from 47 balls, before the final assault. By then the poor Afghans were spent, their bowling, catching and ground fielding all shoddy.
It continued throughout their innings as England put the squeeze on from the start. The first wicket fell in the first over, a hit and hope club by Mohammad Shehzad, the second in the second, a mistimed drive to cover. So it went on.
One poor shot followed another and England made no mistake in the field. At 26 for 8 after Samit Patel took two wickets in an over Afghanistan were in serious danger of equalling the lowest score ever in an international match – New Zealand's 26 all out, also against England, in the Auckland Test early in 1955.
But a late flourish, led by Gulbadin Naib, took them to a region that avoided utter humiliation. For England this was exactly the start they craved to the defence of their title. For the tournament as a whole it was miserable. It desperately needs some close matches, let alone a last-ball thriller, as well as some crowds. The next stage has to provide them.
Results and fixtures
* Yesterday's results
Group A (Colombo): England 196-5 [Wright 99*] bt Afghanistan 80 all out [Naib 44] by 116 runs.
Group D (Pallekele): New Zealand 191-3 [McCullum 123] bt Bangladesh 132-8 [Hossain 50; Southee 3-16, Mills 3-33] by 59 runs.
* Today's fixtures
Group B (Colombo, 3pm BST)
Australia v West Indies
Group C (Hambantota, 11am)
Sri Lanka v South Africa
* Tomorrow's fixtures
Group A (Colombo, 3pm)
England v India
Group D (Pallekele, 11am)
New Zealand v Pakistan
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