Afghanistan rallies after early Starc strike to post 207
BRISTOL, England (AP) — Mitch Starc started Australia's Cricket World Cup title defense against Afghanistan the same way he launched the team's victory parade in 2015 by taking a wicket in the first over on Saturday.
Starc's yorker to remove dangerman Brendon McCullum for a third-ball duck in the final four years ago doused New Zealand's bid for a first World Cup title.
The lanky left-armer's full delivery to Mohammad Shahzad at the Country Cricket Ground was similar, taking out off stump, and put the Afghans under instant pressure after winning the toss and electing to bat.
Matters got worse for Afghanistan in the next over when Pat Cummins had Hazratullah Zazai caught behind, making it 5-2.
It wasn't all one-sided from there, though, as the No. 10-ranked Afghans rallied around two face-saving partnerships. But clusters of wickets restricted the total to 207 on a ground where the short boundaries offer big scores.
Rahmat Shah (43) and Hashmatullah Shahidi (18) combined to stop the onslaught with a 51-run, third-wicket partnership until legspinner Adam Zampa took a pair of wickets to wrest the control back for Australia.
The Afghans slipped to 77-5 after a terrible run out, then Najibullah and Naib joined forces and, to the delight of the crowd, belted Zampa out of the attack by clouting two boundaries and two sixes off the last four balls of the 29th over.
Again, though, Afghanistan lost quick wickets to derail the comeback. Marcus Stoinis (2-37) had Naib (31) and Njibullah (51) caught behind attempting pull shots off short-pitched deliveries.
Zampa returned to collect a third wicket, his figures ballooning to 3-60 off eight overs, and Cummins (3-40) took the last two to finish off Afghanistan's innings in the 39th over.
Australia has won both of its previous World Cup games against Afghanistan, including a 275-run victory in Perth four years ago.
Steve Smith and David Warner were back in the Australia lineup for their first official one-day internationals since returning from 12-month bans for their part in a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa last year.
Smith was in the thick of action, taking a sharp catch at short cover to dismiss Shah and then running out Mohammad Nabi after diving at full length to cut off the single and then firing it back at the striker's end.
Warner was booed by the partisan crowd as he chased balls to the boundary early in the innings, but also spent time signing autographs.