SYDNEY: New Zealand were closing in on a fifth successive World Cup win on Sunday when they bowled out Afghanistan for 186 as former champions Australia and Sri Lanka met in Sydney with minds on quarter-final permutations.
The Black Caps had already made sure of their last-eight place by defeating Australia last weekend and victory over Afghanistan at McLean Park in Napier would virtually guarantee top spot in Pool A and a more comfortable last eight match-up.
Veteran spinner Daniel Vettori had an excellent return of four for 18 from his maximum 10 overs as he became the first New Zealander to take 300 one-day international wickets.
The 36-year-old, who started the day on 298 wickets, bowled opener Usman Ghani for a duck with his first delivery and then went to 300 when he bowled Nawroz Mangal for 27.
Afghanistan came into the Pool B game having defeated Scotland but also having lost to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Australia, with the four-time champions handing out a 275-run thrashing to the competition debutants.
They were in trouble again on Sunday at 59 for six before Najibullah Zadran (56) and Samiullah Shenwari (54) put on 86 for the seventh wicket.
Shenwari batted on despite taking a nasty blow on the back of his helmet after ducking awkwardly into a Corey Anderson bouncer when he had made 33. His fifty, off 105 balls, was his 10th in ODIs.
“It was tough out there, the wind was blowing from all angles and there wasn’t much pace in the pitch,” said New Zealand seamer Trent Boult, who took three for 34.
“Dan led from the front, we adapted well to the conditions and kept them to a reasonable total.”
Until Saturday, both Australia and Sri Lanka were trying to avoid a potential quarter-final with South Africa, as well as targeting a Pool A win of their own.
South Africa seemed set for the runners-up place in Pool B but Pakistan decided to turn plans upside down by beating the Proteas by 29 runs in Auckland.
South Africa and Pakistan have six points in Pool B as do Ireland, who also have a game in hand and could take second place behind already qualified India, the defending champions.
– Heat on Australia –
Adding to the complexity is that the West Indies, on four points, could also sneak into the quarter-final shake-up if results — and run-rates — go their way.
The 1996 winners, Sri Lanka lead the Aussies by one point in Pool A and a win would clinch second spot behind New Zealand.
The heat is on Michael Clarke’s Australians to defuse Sri Lanka’s batting arsenal at the SCG after going down by one wicket to New Zealand last weekend.
Australia, coming off their rout of Afghanistan in Perth on Wednesday, will be favourites to extend their World Cup dominance over the Sri Lankans.
They have beaten Sri Lanka six times in eight matches, including victory in the 2007 final in Barbados, while the Sri Lankans beat them in the 1996 tournament decider in Lahore.
Sri Lanka completed the third-highest run chase in tournament history to clinch a nine-wicket win over England in Wellington last Sunday.
Centuries by Kumar Sangakkara and Lahiru Thirimanne ensured Sri Lanka reeled in the 310-run target, scoring 312 for one with 16 balls to spare.
Sangakkara’s 117 was his second successive century and his 23rd hundred in 401 ODIs.
Australia will again be without injured fast bowler Pat Cummins while Sri Lanka will be forced into making at least two changes.
Spinner Rangana Herath is out with a finger injury, while batsman Dimuth Karunaratne suffered a tournament-ending broken finger batting in the nets this week.