When England turn out for their final match against Afghanistan at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), they would not be in the best frame of mind. They have been knocked out of the tournament following losses to New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka and more recently Bangladesh. Their only win the tournament has come against Scotland. Their ranking in the pool is on par with those of the minnows. They have been knocked out along with Afghanistan and Scotland from Pool A. As such, a win against Afghanistan on Friday wouldn't be of much consequence to them, but a loss will further the embarrassment, which they would be keen to avoid.
The target for England from the match should be to try and finish off their campaign with a thoroughly professional effort. They must display a sense of responsibility, which has been clearly lacking in this World Cup. Looking at their batting first, no one has really stood up. Joe Root got a superb hundred against Sri Lanka, and that has been the highpoint for them in the series, but there is precious else to look back on fondly. Moeen Ali got a ton against Scotland, but he has been a massive flop in the games that have mattered. Ian Bell has got a couple of half-centuries, but no big score.
Part of England's problem has arisen because they haven't chosen the best possible squad, and some of their tactics have been baffling. The scenario surrounding Kevin Pietersen was not something much could be done about, but they certainly could have tried out Alex Hales and Chris Jordan earlier in the tournament. It is too late now, but England must still give another opportunity to Hales to find out if they missed a trick. May be, he could bat up the order, and Ali could come at one down. The decision to not give Ravi Bopara a chance was also strange though he was out of form. Finally, demoting James Taylor down the order after his tri-series success was incomprehensible.
England's bowling has been shoddy to say the least. The lack of skills possessed by James Anderson and Stuart Broad in the format have been thoroughly exposed. They have failed in earlier World Cups as well, so this was no one off. Steven Finn needs to have a serious look at his game after the battering he has received in this World Cup. England also failed to utilise the services of James Tredwell. He has been one of the team's most consistent bowlers in the one-day format, and not trying him was another trick missed. Eoin Morgan's captaincy will also come under the scanner, particularly because he has hardly scored a run in the last few months. The pressure of leadership seems to have gotten the better of him.
For Afghanistan, the Sydney encounter would be a great chance to prey on England frailty. Morgan's men would be at their most vulnerable now, and Afghanistan would harbour serious hopes of claiming their second victory in their maiden World Cup appearance. For that too happen, their renowned batsmen will have to stand up. If you look at their performance in the tournament so far, it has been a one-man show with the bat, with Samiullah Shenwari being the standout performer. Former skipper Nawroz Mangal and current captain Mohammad Nabi are highly talented, but haven't performed to potential yet. The bowling is in good hands with Shapoor Zadran and Dawlat Zadran proving to be highly impressive. Thus, if their batting unit fires, Afghanistan could seriously trouble already troubled England.
--By A Cricket Analyst