Neesham, Ferguson leave Afghanistan in ruins
James Neesham picked up his maiden five-wicket-haul. (AFP Image)

TAUNTON: New Zealand overcame a period of play where the Afghanistan openers swung, hoicked and gave it the old fashioned whip, before Jimmy Neesham decided to come to the party, later joined by Lockie Ferguson. Neesham, the New Zealand allrounder took out five Afghan batsmen, ending their pre-mature fun. Neesham took care of the top and middle order, while Ferguson wiped out the tail to roll over Afghanistan for 172 with nine overs remaining.

From 51 for 1, Afghanistan lost steam, with their next nine wickets contributing for a little over 120 runs. Once the opening wicket fell, Neesham and New Zealand found their mark. It was good, aggressive fast bowling, and one that knocked the stuffing out of Afghanistan, who despite Hashmatullah Shahidi’s stubborn fifty, could not make the most of a bright start.

Trying to take advantage of the short boundaries, Hazratullah Zazai dished out an early little assault. Clearing his front leg, Zazai just made the arc, and for the most part, his tactics paid off. Matt Henry was taken for three fours in the first over and later cleared the ground.

Zazai twice skied the ball towards long leg and long on but survived on both occasions, with men converging. Zazai’s chancy knock ended shortly after the fifty was raised and he perished slicing Jimmy Neesham to Colin Munro at sweeper cover. Two balls later, Noor Ali Zadran tickled a Matt Henry ball down leg to Tom Latham.

Rahmat Shah then chipped Neesham to short cover and just like that, having gone wicketless in the Powerplay, New Zealand had removed three in three, which later became four in four with Afghanistan skipper Gulbadin Naib flashing outside off an offering a feather behind.

With New Zealand pacers again inflicting early damage, Hashmatullah Shahidi and Mohammad Nabi dug in for 35 off 9.2 overs, even if that meant spending some time at the wicket. After taking 20 balls to open his account, Shahidi struck consecutive boundaries after a brief rain intervention. Just two overs could be bowled before the heavens opened up again. When play resumed after a second pause, Neesham came back and snuck out Nabi and Najibullah Zadran at 109 for 6. That was his fifth wicket, and with it, Neesham joined Richard Hadlee, Shane Bond, Tim Southee and Trent Boult among New Zealand bowlers to take five-wicket hauls in a World Cup.

By the time Neesham bowled out, Afghanistan simply could not rotate strike. Islam Alikhil, the replacement of Mohammad Shahzad, scored 2 off 21, but managed to hang around for 21 runs with Shahidi. It was Colin de Grandhomme, who ended Alikhil’s misery, before Henry knocked over Rashid Khan, who got himself in a tangle. The ball hit his helmet grill and rebounded onto the stumps.

Shahidi, and briefly Aftab Alam, ensured entertainment returned for Afghanistan. Alam scored 14 off 10 including three typical tailender-ish boundaries, and shortly after his dismissal Zazai brought up his half-century off 84 balls with a cross-batted swat towards long-on as a handful of Afghan journalists stood up to applaud. His was the last wicket to go down, holing out to third man.

Brief Scores: Afghanistan 172 all out (Hashmatullah Shahidi 59, Hazratullah Zazai 34; Jimmy Neesham 5/31, Lockie Ferguson 4/37) against New Zealand.