England and Australia went into the final round of Group 1 fixtures level on five points, but England’s significant net-run-rate advantage had them in the box seat behind New Zealand, whose place in the last-four is now secure after they beat Ireland earlier on Friday.
Australia, therefore, needed to win and win big against Afghanistan to pile the pressure on Jos Buttler’s side ahead of their final game but were thwarted by Afghanistan’s best display of the tournament as Rashid Khan’s blistering 48 off 23 came close to inspiring an upset.
Missing captain Aaron Finch and the explosive power of Tim David, Australia set out with intent after being inserted but some fine death bowling from Fazalhaq Farooqi and Naveen-ul-Haq saw the hosts restricted to 168 for eight, with just 35 runs coming from the final five overs despite Glenn Maxwell’s unbeaten half-century.
That score made it impossible for New Zealand to be overhauled and meant Australia, who also left Mitchell Starc out of their side, needed to bowl Afghanistan out for 106 or fewer in order to edge ahead of England’s current NRR.
After 13 overs of the chase, however, Afghanistan had already made 98 for two with Gulbadin Naib motoring to 39 off 23 and, despite then losing four wickets for as many runs, gave Australia an almighty scare thanks to Rashid’s thrilling late cameo on the ground where he has starred for the Adelaide Strikers in the Big Bash League.
Australia’s win lifts them into second for now and eliminates Sri Lanka from the qualification picture, but a victory by any margin for England in Sydney tomorrow is now guaranteed to send them through at the defending champions’ expense.
Earlier, New Zealand had beaten Ireland by 35 runs, despite a brilliant hat-trick from Josh Little.
Captain Kane Williamson’s 61 off 35 balls led New Zealand to 185-for-six, with Little taking three wickets in the 19th over to round off an outstanding personal campaign, before Lockie Ferguson’s 3-22 helped the Kiwis comfortably defend the total.