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Australia’s T20 World Cup hopes hit hard by historic defeat to Afghanistan
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Australia’s T20 World Cup hopes hit hard by historic defeat to Afghanistan

Australia have suffered a shock 21-run loss to Afghanistan that throws their semi-final hopes into jeopardy at the 2024 T20 World Cup.

Mitch Marsh’s side were left to rue dropping five catches in the field on Sunday and then falling to 32-3 in the powerplay on a tough St Vincent wicket. Chasing 149, Australia were all out for 127 with four balls remaining in the last over.

The 2021 champions’ first-ever loss to Afghanistan came after openers Rahmanullah Gurbaz (60 off 49 balls) and Ibrahim Zadran (51 off 48) defied a fiendish pitch for a 118-run stand – the largest opening partnership ever recorded against Australia in T20s.

With his second hat-trick in as many games, Pat Cummins (3-28) helped Australia claw back momentum. Karim Janat (13), Rashid Khan (2) and Gulbadin Naib (0) were all removed by the in-form quick bowler, as Afghanistan were restricted to 148-6.

Glenn Maxwell (59 off 41) played himself back into form with the bat and threatened to reprise his role as Afghanistan’s bogeyman, following a double-century at the 50-over World Cup last year. But Afghanistan could smell victory when the all-rounder clipped player-of-the-match Naib (4-20) to backward point, where Noor Ahmad took a tough chance in the 15th over.

The loss means Australia could have to rely on net run-rate to make the final four even if they are able to beat India in their last Super Eight game, starting at 12.30am AEST on Tuesday.

“It becomes really clear now, we just need to win,” Marsh said ahead of the crunch clash with India, who have won their first two games in the group. “There’s no better team to do it against, one of the biggest challenges in world cricket.

“We’ll remain positive, we had an off-night tonight, absolute full credit to Afghanistan, I thought they were brilliant. We move on pretty quickly.”

Afghanistan’s historic victory keeps their own hopes of a fairytale semi-final berth alive before their third Super Eight match against Bangladesh.

“It’s a massive win for us as a team and as a nation, in the World Cup, beating champions, it’s a great feeling,” Afghanistan captain Rashid Khan said. “I’m super proud of the guys.”

Glenn Maxwell threatened to guide Australia to victory over Afghanistan again until dismissed for 59View image in fullscreen

“Tonight, because of the happiness I won’t be able to sleep,” Khan added. “That’s how happy the whole team is and the whole country is. It’s a massive win for us, as a team, as a nation.

“Cricket is the only source of happiness back home, we all know that. And I feel like we are so lucky to be here giving happiness to the people back home.”

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After winning the toss, Australia dropped five chances in the field, the first two coming during the blistering opening stand. As Gurbaz and Zadran wreaked havoc, Matthew Wade missed an easy opportunity for a stumping and Australia twice leaked fours following misfields from Ashton Agar after he was called into the XI for Mitchell Starc.

After dropping an earlier chance, Marcus Stoinis (1-19) had a long-overdue breakthrough when Gurbaz picked out David Warner at deep backward square leg. When that scalp eventually came – in the 16th over – it was the longest Australia had gone in a T20 international without taking a wicket.

Australia’s best two frontline bowlers this tournament, Adam Zampa (2-28) and Cummins, ensured Afghanistan’s batting order never clicked back into gear once the opening partnership was broken.

Cummins became the first player to take hat-tricks in consecutive T20 games when Gulbadin (0) pulled him to Maxwell at deep midwicket in the final over. The Australia quick then could have had another scalp off the next ball had the usually reliable Warner held onto Nangeyalia Kharote at deep point.

Naveen-ul-Haq (3-20) vindicated the decision to start Afghanistan’s innings with pace, swinging the ball into Travis Head’s middle stump with the third delivery of the innings. The losses of Head (0) and Mitch Marsh (12) inside three overs raised the alarm, and Australia were officially in panic mode when their opponents injected spin for the first time.

David Warner (three) skied Mohammad Nabi (1-1) to short fine leg on the off-spinner’s first delivery and set the stage for Maxwell to haunt Afghanistan again. But when the all-rounder’s gutsy knock came to an end, Australia were down to their bowlers and limping to the finish at 106-6.

With Australia requiring 24 runs from the final over, Azmatullah Omarzai sealed victory when Zampa hit him to Nabi at long on with four balls remaining.

Source: theguardian.com