Mumbai: With seats filling up fast for World Cup semifinals, Australia will look to banish middle-order woes and secure a final four spot against a fearless Afghanistan here on Tuesday.
Only two places remain up for the taking with rampant India slated to finish atop the World Cup points table. South Africa have also qualified.
With no other team directly threatening Australia’s progression into the semifinals, Pat Cummins’ men would like to finish the job at the first given opportunity here at the Wankhede Stadium — a venue that has been a paradise for batting but also supports the bowlers adequately if they are good enough to exploit the conditions.
The battle promises to be an enticing watch given Afghanistan’s battery of spinners and resolute batting itching to deliver a strong show against Australia, for whom leg-spinner Adam Zampa’s 19 wickets in seven matches are the most for any bowler in this World Cup.
Australia need only one win from their remaining two contests — against Afghanistan and Bangladesh — to become the third semifinalists and more importantly stay clear from the pack that is about to engage in a dogfight in the middle of the points table for the final spot.
But the five-time champions are also in a way, a bit far from their best even though they come into Tuesday’s contest riding high on confidence of five consecutive wins, given that their middle-order is yet to come to the party.
Steve Smith (one) and Marnus Labuschagne (two) are no ODI behemoths but a combined total of three fifties in seven matches each between Nos 3 and 4 would give any team a huge concern.
But given how the duo batted in Ahmedabad on a pitch that was gripping and turning in Ahmedabad, both Smith and Labuschagne will hope for stronger returns against Afghanistan.
For Labuschagne, his two fifties have come in the last three outings and his 83-ball 71 against England was a quality knock on a sluggish surface where Australia did just well enough to make a total which was beyond England’s reach.
At the top, David Warner (428 runs in 7 matches at 61.14, 2x100s, 1x50s) has done the heavylifting while Travis Head’s strong beginning to the World Cup (120 runs in two matches) gives Australia the hope of a fiery start.
With Mitchell Marsh returning, Australia must also be able to address the issue of Cameron Green’s ordinary run with the bat among the team’s designated all-rounders.
For Afghanistan, who have lost all three ODIs to Australia including two in World Cups, it will be imperative to keep building on the success they have garnered in this edition.
With four wins in the last five matches, the Afghans have kept the semifinal dream alive but getting past Australia will be a humongous challenge, knowing that they are also required to improve the Net Run Rate in their respective last two league games.
The consistency displayed with the bat by captain Hashmatullah Shahidi (282 runs), Rahmat Shah (264) Azmatullah Omarzai (234), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (234) and Ibrahim Zadran (232) has delivered three consecutive wins while chasing for Afghanistan, but playing against Australia will be a different ball game.
With Rashid Khan (7 wickets) opting to have an extended batting session here on Sunday, there were clear indications which part of his game the star player wanted to work on more as his 56 runs in seven matches have not done justice to his abilities.
Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith, Alex Carey (wk), Josh Inglis (wk), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Mitch Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa, Mitchell Starc.
Afghanistan: Hashmatullah Shahidi (c), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Ibrahim Zadran, Riaz Hassan, Rahmat Shah, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Ikram Alikhil (wk), Azmatullah Omarzai, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Noor Ahmad, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Abdul Rahman, Naveen ul Haq.
Time: 2:00PM IST.