Warner, Smith endure the jeers to help Australia win
BRISTOL, England (AP) — Facing the boos and jeers together, ex-captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner returned from international cricket exile to help Australia begin its World Cup defense by dominating Afghanistan on Saturday.
Warner compiled a measured, unbeaten 89 and was voted player of the match.
Smith took a diving catch, produced a brilliant run out, and combined with Warner in a 49-run stand before he was out three runs shy of the victory target at the County Cricket Ground.
It was quite a welcome back.
As expected, the tournament opener for both teams was a mismatch, although Afghanistan kept it interesting by recovering to post 207 after losing both opening batsmen for ducks. Glenn Maxwell needed one shot after Smith's dismissal — a boundary — to lift Australia to 209-3 and a seven-wicket win with 15 overs to spare.
For five-time champion Australia, it was a steady start to the title defense. It also presented a chance to raise the stakes in the reintegration of Smith and Warner following their 12-month bans imposed in the wake of a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa last year.
The veteran batsmen had played in unofficial practice games since being recalled to the squad last month but this was the first legitimate outing and it almost went to script.
Warner had a narrow escape on 19 as he scrambled to get back into his crease to avoid being run out. His scoring rate was also uncharacteristically restrained in a 96-run opening stand with skipper Aaron Finch, who hit six boundaries and four sixes in his 49-ball 66 before lofting a catch to Mujeeb Ur Rahman off Gulbadin Naib's bowling in the 17th over.
Warner picked it up slightly in partnership with Usman Khawaja, but still took 74 balls to reach 50. His raised bat to acknowledge the milestone after a cutting a boundary behind point was met with a chorus of boos.
It's not like he wasn't expecting it. He reacted only by raising his bat in another direction, focused more on his road to redemption than the expected hostile reception from the largely English crowd.
The crowd booed louder for the arrival of Smith in the 25th over after Khawaja (15) was adjudged lbw to Rashid Khan. It rarely settled down before Smith was out for 18.
Smith and Warner have acknowledged it will take time to rebuild their reputations following the cheating saga that started when South African TV cameras caught Cameron Bancroft trying to rough up the leather ball with sandpaper during a test match in Cape Town. Warner was involved in planning the clumsy plot, and Smith took blame for not doing enough to stop it. Both accepted the heavy sanctions imposed by Cricket Australia for bringing the game into disrepute, hoping it would give them a chance to represent their country again.
That achieved, time to re-set the goals.
Afghanistan's innings lasted 38 overs after winning the toss and batting, but it could have been worse.
Mitchell Starc bowled Mohammad Shahzad on the third ball before Afghanistan scored, and when Pat Cummins had Hazratullah Zazai caught behind in the second over, the total was 5-2.
The No. 10-ranked Afghans rallied around two face-saving partnerships, but clusters of wickets were costly 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.
Najibullah Zadran (51) and Naib (31) joined forces at 77-5 and upped the tempo in an 83-run partnership, belting Zampa out of the attack by clouting two boundaries and two sixes off the last four balls of the 29th over.
Again, though, Afghanistan's comeback was derailed when Marcus Stoinis (2-37) claimed Naib and Najibullah 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.
Smith was in the thick of the action, taking a sharp catch at short cover to dismiss Shah off Zampa's bowling 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 regularly in the outfield but also spent time on the boundary signing autographs.
After extending their winning streak to nine in ODIs, the Australians next face the West Indies, who opened with a comprehensive win over Pakistan. Afghanistan will travel to Cardiff aiming to pick off a demoralized Sri Lanka team which loss to New Zealand by 10 wickets.