Defending champions Australia start off their campaign to regain the world title against a relatively weak opposition in Afghanistan at Bristol on June 1. However, the Afghans have done enough in their brief ODI history to make the Aussies and every other team wary. They have a trump card in the form of Rashid Khan whose success or failure may well decide the course of the match.
When and where to watch
Being the second match of the day, this contest will begin at 1:30 PM local time and 6 PM IST. It will be telecasted on Star Sports 3 and streamed online on Hotstar.
A lot of people are interested in this match, but not because of what is expected to happen on the field. The curiosity relates to the kind of reaction David Warner and Steve Smith are expected to get when they make their return to international cricket, that too, in front of an English crowd.
When Steve Smith scored a hundred in a warm-up game, he got booed by the people in attendance. While some English players have requested the fans to not be so uncharitable, the English crowds are known to have a mind of their own.
But looking at the match, Australia should record an easy win. Their batting order was looking quite solid even before the re-emergence of Warner and Smith. Aaron Finch scored heavily in the last ODI series of his team while Khawaja has been pumping out runs with great prolificacy since the 5-match rubber in India.
Now the question is: Where will Warner bat? He is bound to be in top-3. Smith would come at no. 4 and by his century in the practice game has proven that he hasn't lost his value in ODI cricket. Shaun Marsh and Glenn Maxwell might be next with Alex Carey finishing off the top-7. However, if Australia want a seamer as their fifth bowler, Marcus Stoinis may get in.
The bowling would consist of Mitchell Starc, the hero of the last World Cup with his deadly speed and yorkers, and Pat Cummins, one of the very best in the World. Whether Aussies pick two spinners or one depends upon the nature of the wicket. If there is a bit of dryness, both Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon would play. In case only one is needed, it will be tough to choose between Zampa and Lyon as both have done well. The former gives away runs but picks up wickets while Lyon is great for controlling the game through accurate bowling.
For the third seamer's spot, there are three options: Nathan Coulter Nile, Jason Behrendorff and Kane Richardson. None of the three have set the stage on fire but could be good as a partner with Cummins and Starc.
On the Afghanistan side, the hopes would rest on Rashid Khan. But he won't be alone among spinners. Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman have been good in recent times. A collective effort would be required from all of them. The pace bowling department of Afghanistan would be followed closely to see how Hamid Hassan, making a comeback into the team does. Among their batsmen, hopes are high from Hazratullah Zazai, a dashing, aggressive batsmen who has played some great knocks in T20 cricket. The likes of Hashmatullah Shahidi and Asghar Afghan are also expected to rear up the Afghan innings. But they will have their task cut out against the Cummins and co.
Essentially, we are looking at an easy win for the 5-time world champions. But who knows, there may be a surprise in store. The hope for Afghans lies in Rashid's bowling. If he can bamboozle the batsmen in this match, they will have an opprtunity, if not, it's a foregone conclusion.
Players to watch
David Warner: Away from international cricket for more than a year, Warner doesn't seem to have lost his great ability. After performing well in the IPL, he might want to make a big statement in the World Cup.
Hamid Hassan: When Afghanistan first appeared on the international scene in the 2010 World T20, Hassan was the most impressive performer. He could bowl genuinely fast, reaching speeds up to 140/kph+. It would be interesting to see if he has maintained that pace.
Australia: Aaron Finch (C), David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey (WK), Nathan Lyon, Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitchell Starc
Afghanistan: Mohammad Shahzad (WK), Hazratullah Zazai, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Asghar Afghan, Najibullah Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib (C), Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rehman, Hamid Hassan