David Warner said it was a “great” feeling to return to international cricket with a bang in Australia’s 2019 ICC World Cup opener against Afghanistan in Bristol on Sunday morning (AEST).
Warner and former Australia captain Steve Smith made their much-anticipated returns following ball-tampering bans and it was the former who caught the eye with a determined and gritty 89 not out.
The opener hit eight fours from 114 deliveries and helped Australia to a seven-wicket win, Aaron Finch’s side reaching their victory target of 208 with more than 15 overs remaining.
Smith’s impact was more modest, although he mixed an 18-run cameo with a sharp catch and an excellent run-out.
Both players were booed throughout the contest, despite Australia coach Justin Langer’s plea to fans, but it did not seem to bother them.
Warner admitted afterwards he was far from his fluent best but was happy with the way he was able to stay patient.
“Playing Twenty20 cricket over the last sort of 12 to 14 months hasn’t really moved my feet at all,” Warner said at the post-match presentation.
“To get back into a rhythm out there and start moving in the right direction, getting my head over the ball and that – was just great to get out there and do that.
“Just a great win – good start for us. We’ve got to keep this ball rolling.”
Finch – who combined with Warner for a 96-run partnership for the first wicket – was equally pleased with his opening partner’s hard-fought innings.
“For the first half of his innings there, he was struggling to time the ball and his feet weren’t really going,” he said.
“So the fact that he kept hanging in there and hanging in there – you always have to remember that it’s going to be harder for a new batter to come in.
“That was great for him to just kick on and do that job really well for us and be not out in the end.”
Finch backed up an impressive Australian bowling performance – led by paceman Pat Cummins (3-40) and leg-spinner Adam Zampa (3-60) – by doing the bulk of his side’s early scoring.
He smacked two boundaries in the very first over and raced to 66 before holing out in the deep.
While Warner was rusty and circumspect in the early stages – highlighted by an edge off the impressive Hamid Hassan that would have been caught had a second slip been in place – he slowly found his groove following Finch’s dismissal.
He started to add boundaries to his sharp running between the wickets and even though Usman Khawaja (15) and Smith came and went, he ensured he would be there at the end with what was an encouraging innings.
Glenn Maxwell hit the winning runs, thrashing the one ball he faced for four.
Earlier, Mitchell Starc (1-31) took just three balls to open his account at the World Cup.
The left-armer bowled Afghanistan wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad with a trademark in-swinging delivery and both openers fell without scoring when Cummins had Hazratullah Zazai caught behind.
Rahmat Shah (43) led an Afghanistan response of sorts but Smith’s sharp fielding and a pair of Zampa wickets reduced them to 5-77.
Najibullah Zadran (51) and Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib (31) added 83 runs for the sixth wicket, though, ensuring the match remained competitive.
The pair frustrated Australia, too, Najibullah reverse sweeping Zampa at regular intervals in an enterprising knock that included seven fours and two sixes.
Marcus Stoinis (2-37) came back into the attack to remove both batsmen before some lusty hitting from the likes of Rashid Khan (27) and Mujeeb Ur Rahman (13) pushed Afghanistan beyond 200.
But Afghanistan could not bat enough time, Cummins ending the innings in just the 39th over.
Nathan Coulter-Nile (0-36) was the only Australian bowler to miss out on a wicket.
Also on Saturday (local time), New Zealand thrashed Sri Lanka by 10 wickets in a one-sided encounter in Cardiff.
Sri Lanka were skittled for just 136 and New Zealand needed only 16.1 overs to reach their victory target, Martin Guptill hitting a swashbuckling 73 from 51 deliveries.
Australia’s next match at the World Cup is against West Indies on Thursday evening, starting at 7:30PM (AEST).