- Publish Date
- Sunday, 9 June 2019, 7:36AM
Jimmy Neesham was tossed the ball with the Black Caps in a spot of bother.
He handed it back 10 overs later having produced his best bowling figures – in his entire competitive career – and with the Black Caps superbly set up for a victory which keeps them on top of the Cricket World Cup ladder.
Neesham's 5-31 was the star showing at County Ground Taunton as Afghanistan were rolled for 172 – a target the Black Caps chased down with 17.5 overs and seven wickets to spare to make it three wins from three at the Cup.
They were given a brief scare from Afghanistan, who ripped through to 66-0 with a fiery start, but it quickly turned to ashes as the Black Caps took four wickets in 21 balls.
Such a spell was much-needed after the Afghanistan opening pairing of Hazratullah Zazai and Noor Ali Zadran immensely frustrated Matt Henry and Trent Boult.
Zazai – who has a 12-ball 50, six sixes in an over, and an unbeaten 162 in a Twenty20 international to his name - lived incredibly dangerously in an agricultural knock, giving the Black Caps four chances. One fell between onrushing fielders, another Colin de Grandhomme couldn't cling on to while running backwards, while Ross Taylor had one edge fly over him at first slip, and a second elude his grasp in a difficult one-handed attempt above his head.
It culminated in a rather surprising start after the Black Caps chose to bowl first on a green wicket, but an inspired bowling change saw Neesham hit the crease, and New Zealand's fortunes lift.
Neesham immediately lured Zazai into a trap, picking out Colin Munro on the point boundary, before Lockie Ferguson strangled Zadran down the legside. That started the rot, with Neesham then drawing a leading edge from Rahmat Shah to Martin Guptill at backward point, before skipper Gulbadin Naib tried to play at a ball that would have been a wide, edging through to Tom Latham.
All of a sudden, Neesham had 3-9, and at the other end, Ferguson was firing express deliveries past the flaying bats and ducking bodies of the Afghan batsmen as he reeled off three consecutive maidens.
From 66-0, Afghanistan had collapsed to 70-4, and their realistic hopes of troubling the Black Caps were over. Not helping was Hashmatullah Shahidi, who scored a solitary run from his first 27 deliveries, as Afghanistan retreated into their shell.
Two brief rain delays threatened to stop Neesham's run, but he picked things up on his return, finding his lengths and creating some uneven bounce. He became just the fifth New Zealander to take five wickets in a World Cup innings, bagging two more in his seventh over; Latham a grateful recipient of two further edges, as he too bagged a personal five-for.
And, although Shahidi battled well for 59, Ferguson mopped up the tail – including a frightening delivery that crashed off Rashid Khan's helmet grill onto the stumps – to end with 4-37.
Another box impressively ticked for the Black Caps bowling unit, and the batsmen will be largely pleased as well, despite another shaky moment or two.
Guptill was remarkably dismissed first ball, offering an inside edge off his pad to point, while Munro once again came and went for a quickfire 22.
However, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor put together another productive partnership, adding 89 to ease any brief concerns. As custom, there was a runout scare in amongst – Williamson would have been gone if not for a terrible throw, but the skipper eventually eased to an unbeaten 79 – his highest World Cup score.
Taylor strangely missed a full toss to be bowled for 48, but Tom Latham joined Williamson to steer New Zealand home to their third consecutive victory.
Now, as India loom on Thursday, the real tests begin.
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission