The Cooper Associates County Ground in Taunton is best remembered for Sourav Ganguly’s 183 and Rahul Dravid’s 145 in the 1999 World Cup encounter which resulted in a then-world record stand of 318 runs. That was the last international match at the venue. 20 years later, the ground witnessed a clinical performance by New Zealand against Afghanistan. James Neesham tore through the Afghanistan batting with 5/31 and was well-backed up by Lockie Ferguson’s fiery four wicket haul. Skipper Kane Williamson led from the front with a brilliant 79* and New Zealand secured a convincing seven-wicket win against Afghanistan to stay on top of the group.
Barring Hashmatullah Shahidi’s fifty and a solid contribution from the openers, the Afghanistan batting were found wanting against the bounce generated by Neeshan and the pace of Ferguson. New Zealand inserted Afghanistan in and Hazratullah Zazai struck three boundaries off Matt Henry in the first over. Zazai looked to take the attack to the New Zealand pacers and he survived two attempted catches. In the seventh over bowled by Trent Boult, Zazai was dropped by Ross Taylor and the batsman followed it up with a six and a four off Henry, who was having an off day. It seemed it would be Afghanistan’s day.
However, the introduction of Neesham and Ferguson changed the complexion of the innings. Neesham accounted for Zazai (34) to end the 66-run opening stand while Noor Ali Zadran (31) was sent back by Ferguson. When Neesham sent back Rahmat Shah (0) and Gulbadin Naib (4), the Afghanistan innings was in freefall.
A rain break for 15 minutes only added to the woes as Afghanistan looked for momentum. Shahidi was in fine form but the second rain-break totally swung the game New Zealand’s way. Mohammad Nabi (9) and Najibullah Zadran (0) fell to Neesham as he took his first five-wicket haul.
Shahidi held the lower order together and Ikram Alikhil was dropped again by Taylor. However, the batsman could not capitalise on his chance and Colin de Grandhomme took his wicket. However, Ferguson dealt Afghanistan a body blow. A pacy bouncer hit Rashid Khan and the ball trickled back onto the stumps. Rashid received treatment for a concussion Shahidi reached his fifty and got Afghanistan past 150 but Ferguson took the last wicket to bowl Afghanistan out for 172 in just the 42nd over.
In response, Martin Guptill fell first ball to Aftab Alam but Colin Munro got going with a couple of boundaries. When news emerged, that Rashid had failed a concussion test and could not bowl in the innings, Afghanistan’s morale dipped. Williamson and Munro kept the scoreboard ticking but Alam struck again by removing Munro for 22.
Taylor joined Williamson and the duo went about scoring the runs in an efficient manner. Taylor launched Nabi for a six while Williamson notched up his 38th fifty. Alam broke the 89-run stand when Taylor (48) missed a full toss but Williamson guided New Zealand over the line to ensure they sustain their great start to the tournament.