WORLD CUP 2019
Warner is fit to play and will open the innings with Finch. © Getty
There’s a strange sort of pride that Bristolians take over their most popular yet anonymous current resident. The city walls are of course littered with Banksy’s works but sightings of the man himself are discussed with a veil of secrecy. Many here claim to know the mysterious graffiti artist, and some to knowing him personally, but they get tight-lipped when they feel you’re probing for information.
It’s a lot like how everyone around Australian cricket and the country itself dealt with the absence of their two most high-profile players over the last 12 months – except that there was no ambiguity over where they were and why they weren’t around. But while the real identity of Banksy might never be revealed to the world, the return of Steve Smith and David Warner to the Australian ranks has meant that they have regained their customary identity at the World Cup of being a force to be reckoned with.
Bristol’s other claims to fame too are equally charming and intriguing as the city itself. In addition to being the biggest manufacturers of hot air balloons to having hosted the first-ever bungee jump-off the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge in 1979, they also have their own printed currency and a unique accent – the Rs are a lot pronounced “as in car is carrr and not ca”, as you are duly informed by a security personnel at the ground.
Australia’s history at World Cups, however, is only one of domination. They have landed in England as the defending champions for the fifth time. This though might be the first time since the last time the event came to these shores that they are starting their campaign not as red-hot favourites. And there are two ways of looking at the fact that their opening game is up against the lowest-ranked side in the tournament. It is a great opportunity for them to tighten any loose ends and also officially reintroduce Smith and Warner in a relatively low-key contest. But it can also seem like a tricky start, where the margin of victory will matter as much as the seemingly inevitable result itself.
Bristol, for the record, is also referred to as the “Birthplace of America” considering it was from here that John Cabot had left to find North America in the fifteenth century. And Afghanistan could well turn it into the birthplace of their own fairytale if they even come close to pushing the Australians.
When: June 1, 13:30 Local, 18:00 IST
Where: Bristol County Ground, Bristol
What to expect: Surprisingly, though Bristol does have enough landmarks to celebrate the life of their most popular resident of the past, the city council hasn’t quite ceded to the requests from many to erect a statue of the legendary WG Grace. But they did go ahead around a decade ago to construct a plush apartment complex, housing 147 flats, less than 50 feet from the boundary at the far end. So close are the back-end of the block, that they have an insurance policy, where the Gloucestershire County Cricket Club will cover for any damage caused by a cricket ball to their window panes. And the interesting dimensions of the ground – very short straight boundaries and rather large square boundaries – will encourage the Australian pace barrage to go fast and short at the Afghan batsmen, not renowned for their prowess against fast bowling of the calibre of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins. At the same time, it’ll also make hitting against the likes of Rashid Khan and Mujeeb-ur-Rahman that much tougher for the Aussie batsmen, who have had their fair share of troubles against the turning ball. Bristol’s hilly climes do ensure that the weather remains largely pleasant, but there is a forecast for clouds hovering over the picturesque county ground, and it’s unlikely that rain will play any role.
Australia:David Warner has recovered from his injury scare from Thursday, much to the relief of the Aussie team management, and Justin Langer has confirmed that he will partner Aaron Finch at the top of the order. And Australia will also unleash their paciest triumvirate among the lot available here with Adam Zampa and Maxwell manning the spinning duties.
Probable XI: David Warner, Aaron Finch (c), Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Alex Carey (wk), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa
Afghanistan:Like with Warner, Afghanistan too will be relieved to have their explosive opener, Mohammad Shahzad, back in the mix after he missed the second warm-up game. The return of Hamid Hassan will bolster the pace department though it’s the spinners who will enter the game as the major threats for the Aussies.
Probable XI: Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Afghan, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib (c), Rashid Khan, Hamid Hassan, Mujeeb-ur-Raham, Dawlat Zadran
What they said
“Obviously, we have a great spin department… It depends on the wicket tomorrow. I know Australia cricket team have players that are world-class players but it [will] depend on the day, how our main bowlers bowl to them. I have confidence in my team and also the players, how we prepared for the last one year, so I hope we do our best” – Gulbadin Naib
“They’ve [Afghanistan] turned into a really world-class side at times. They have got some of the best bowlers in the world and their batting is improving all the time. You can never take a side like that for granted… So yeah, they are a dangerous side, very dangerous. We have seen around the world some of the performances their players are putting up in very strong domestic competitions. Like I said, if you take your foot off the gas for a second, they will hurt you and you still have to play at your best to beat them” – Aaron Finch