London, June 7: Minnows Afghanistan would be hoping their spinners challenge New Zealand batsmen when these two teams meet each other in the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in Taunton on Saturday (June 8).
The Kiwis survived a massive scare in their previous game as a spirited Bangladesh spin attack tested them till the very end. Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib admits losing Mohammad Shahzad for the rest of the World Cup is a major blow to his side's hopes of upsetting the odds in the tournament. But believes they can challenge the star-studded Kiwi side with the help of quality spinners in their ranks.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Shahzad was ruled out on Thursday (June 6) after suffering a recurrence of a nagging knee injury. Minnows Afghanistan have lost their first two matches and could ill afford to lose the popular opener ahead of their clash with New Zealand. "Obviously it's a big loss for our side," Naib told reporters on Friday.
"Shahzad is a great player for Afghanistan. He did a lot. I'm also upset for him -- the last two, three weeks he's been struggling with his knee. "He can't move right. In the last two weeks, I checked with the doctor and physio. I gave the time to him to recover. But unfortunately it's bad luck for Shahzad."
Naib believes Shahzad's energetic presence off the pitch will be missed as much as his play on it.
"Shahzad is very energetic. Also in the dressing room he's very funny. He entertains us every time. So we miss a lot of things from him," he added.
Although Afghanistan have little chance of making the semi-finals of the 10-team tournament after losing to holders Australia and Sri Lanka, Naib said his team wanted to show how far they have come since their World Cup debut in 2015.
Four years ago, they lost five of their six matches, with their only win coming against Scotland. But Naib said they were a more mature and confident unit now, with the potential to shock the more-established teams.
New Zealand face yet another trial by spin:
The Kane Williamson-led side defeated Bangladesh by two wickets on Wednesday, with senior-pro Ross Taylor hitting 82 in his team's tense chase at the Oval to record their second straight win in as many matches.
New Zealand, who were finalists in the 2015 edition, have relied on their pacers to get favourable results, but Taylor believes tackling spin will be key against the Asian minnows at Taunton.
"I think against Afghanistan, they have a lot of spin there, so something to factor in," said Taylor, who has recorded three 40 plus scores in his last four ODI innings.
"But two from two, that was what we wanted to do and we were able to do it." While Taylor and skipper Kane Williamson got the runs during their 105-run partnership in London, it was their pace attack led by Matt Henry that ran through the Bangladesh batting.
Henry claimed four wickets to take his tally to seven in two games. He is well supported by Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson, who can clock speeds up to 96 mph. Taylor believes that Lockie Ferguson, with his express pace, is the key man for the Black Caps.
"Lockie, he just gives you that X-factor. Obviously our fastest bowler. He is going to be a key factor for us if we're going to feature in this tournament," said Taylor.
New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Kane Williamson(c), Ross Taylor, Tom Latham(w), James Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult, Tom Blundell, Henry Nicholls, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi.
Afghanistan: Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib(c), Ikram Ali khil(w), Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Aftab Alam, Samiullah Shinwari, Asghar Afghan, Noor Ali Zadran.
Match Starts at 6:00 PM (IST)
Channels: StarSports Network
Live Streaming: Hotstar.com
(With inputs from agencies)