World Twenty20 2016: 'Nervous England should not fear Sri Lanka'

By Jonathan AgnewBBC cricket correspondent

You only had to look at the England dugout to see how the players and management were feeling mid-way through their innings against Afghanistan. They were devastated.

Thankfully for them, scores of 42-4, 57-6 and 85-7 became 142-7, enough for England to win by 15 runs.

Until Moeen Ali and David Willey turned things around, England's batting was nervous, perhaps because they knew this was a game they could only get wrong - there might not have been talk among the players about those two past defeats by the Netherlands, but plenty of others were certainly remembering them.

England certainly seem to have more problems dealing with these sides than the other established cricketing nations do.

As well as the twin losses to the Dutch, there was the World Cup defeat by Ireland and two losses in that competition to Bangladesh.

England might have been beaten by Ireland at the 2010 World Twenty20 had it not rained, while they were given a big scare by Namibia at the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.external-link

Are they more wary of an upset than other nations? Perhaps there is a sense of thinking too much about what could go wrong, rather than what will go right. Maybe they over-analyse this level of opponent, instead of focusing on winning well.

On this occasion, they were not helped by a very canny Afghanistan team selection, with the Associate nation packing their team with spinners on a slow pitch. Traditionally, England do not play that sort of bowling well in limited-overs cricket.

Even so, it was a poor batting performance, the centrepiece of which was the Mohammad Nabi over where England lost three wickets for no runs, including Eoin Morgan being bowled first ball shouldering arms and Joe Root run out in a mix-up with Ben Stokes.

My Test Match Special colleague Vic Marks summed the situation up perfectly when he said it was "dozy beyond belief".

England, though, had a saviour in Moeen Ali, who played sensibly with a little support from Chris Jordan and then Willey, with whom he combined to take 25 from the 19th over of the innings.

There was a slight element of fortune in that Afghanistan had to bowl left-arm spinner Amir Hamza to England's pair of left-handed batsmen, with the ball turning into the pads easier to hit.

Moeen and Willey saw the opportunity to attack and played some excellent shots. In all, they took 44 off the final three overs.

That got England beyond the 125-130 that I always suspected might be enough. It was something for England to bowl at, enough to apply pressure and for their experience to come through.

Overall, it was a much-improved bowling display by England, one that was needed after the opening games against West Indies and South Africa.

Liam Plunkett and Chris Jordan ran in and bowled quickly, keeping variation to a minimum and bowling the off-stump channel that gets wickets in Test matches.

It was right to hit the Afghan batsmen hard, because they would not have been used to that sort of hostility.

It worked, as Willey and Jordan reduced Afghanistan to 13-3 after three overs and, from there, England would have needed to bowl pretty badly to lose the game. So it proved, with Afghanistan falling short on 127-9.

Still, although they missed out recording their biggest victory today, Afghanistan are a good side, vastly improved on when I last saw them.

They seem to have more control, less excitement than before, with the calmness of coach Inzamam-ul-Haq undoubtedly a good influence. They have some very good cricketers in their side, especially all-rounder Nabi.

Mohammad Nabi
Off-spinner Mohammad Nabi took 2-17 in his four overs against England

As for England, it is hard to put this performance into the context of the rest of tournament, because each game feels so much like a one-off - no team has ever gone through a World T20 competition undefeated.

For as poor as the batting was, they will be pleased that the bowling and fielding has improved.

They just have to keep winning, starting with Sri Lanka in their final group game on Saturday. If they win that and South Africa do not win both of their final games, then they are through to the semi-finals.

Historically, England have not always dealt well with Sri Lanka but, ironically, were the only team to beat them two years ago in what was ultimately a triumphant tournament for Sri Lanka.

However, these conditions in Delhi provide England with an excellent opportunity to move nearer to the last four. The pitch will not be too slow, there will not be too much spin.

England have no need to be fearful.

Jonathan Agnew was talking to BBC Sport's Stephan Shemilt

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