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England Vs Afghanistan, ICC Cricket World Cup 2023, Match 13: Three Key Battles To Look Forward To

How England's top and middle order tackles the threat posed by Afghanistan's quality spin bowlers could be pivotal in deciding the outcome. Let us take a look at three duels that could define the ENG vs AFG contest in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023

England's Dawid Malan (L) and Joe Root during the match against Bangladesh in Dharamsala.
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After suffering a huge loss against New Zealand in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 opener, title holders England have well and truly bounced back in the big-ticket 50-over tournament with a resounding 137-run victory against Bangladesh. The top-order, led by a rampaging Dawid Malan, fired big time and the English bowlers did well to skittle Bangladesh for 227. For their next game, England will be lock horns with Afghanistan, a gritty sub-continental outfit that never gives up without a fight, at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in Delhi. (Live Scorecard | Live Streaming | Full Coverage

Afghanistan have had a disappointing start to their World Cup campaign with two losses from as many matches, and are currently at the bottom of the points table. The Hashmatullah Shahidi-led side had to endure a batting masterclass from India skipper Rohit Sharma which led to a thorough thrashing at the same venue as their next match.

But the Afghans are a resilient unit. They know they could have done much better with the bat against India, and had things gone their way, might well have posted a 300-plus total in the first innings.

They also know they possess a strong line-up of quality spinners, headlined by a champion all-rounder like Rashid Khan, who can transform the match equation with bat as well as ball. Had Rashid been brought into the bowling attack a bit sooner against India on Wednesday, the home team's chase might not have gone as smoothly as it did.  

Against a power-packed batting unit like England, Afghanistan's best bet could be leveraging their battery of skilled spin bowlers to slow down proceedings and find the breakthroughs at regular intervals, and hope their batters deliver the goods to upset the defending champions' apple cart.

Let's take a look at three vital contests that could decide which way the match goes.

Joe Root Vs Rashid Khan
This has all the making of a blockbuster duel. The rock of England's batting line-up against the star Afghanistan spinner. Joe Root seems to have re-discovered the joys of batting after quitting captaincy and unlocked a fifth gear, which makes him play innovative and mighty effective strokes without fear. 

Rashid, on the other hand, is used to seeing all kinds of antics from batters in the T20 format and has the variations to bamboozle the very best. If he can dislodge Root early, it could open the floodgates for Afghanistan.

Dawid Malan Vs Mujeeb Ur Rahman
Malan underscored his prime batting form with a swashbuckling 107-ball 140 in the previous game against Bangladesh, which made him the oldest English batter to score a World Cup century. He would look to get England off to another rollicking start on Sunday.

But the young Mujeeb Ur Rahman might well come in the way of those plans. The 22-year-old off-spinner is somewhat in the Rashid Khan mould, as he mixes up off-break deliveries with legspin and some big googlies too, and has made a mark in T20 leagues around the world. Mujeeb would look to pull out his bag of tricks against the southpaw to derail England's charge.

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Rahmanullah Gurbaz Vs Reece Topley
The Afghan wicketkeeper-batter Rahmanullah Gurbaz is key to his team's plans at the top of the order, as he aims to provide a solid foundation along with Ibrahim Zadran. Gurbaz has been amongst the runs lately, and would love to score a big one aainst a champion side like England.

But the towering English left-arm seamer Reece Topley might well throw a spanner in the works. Topley was the wrecker-in-chief against Bangladesh on Wednesday, and has picked up nine wickets from his last five games. He would look to trouble the right-handed Gurbaz with his angle and deceptive change of pace.    

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