Aussie spinner Adam Zampa is just one wicket away from equalling late legend Shane Warne's Cricket World Cup record for Australia, going into Tuesday night's (AEDT) match against Afghanistan. The Aussies can all but guarantee their spot in the semi-finals with a win on Tuesday night, having rocketed into third on the standings on the back of five straight wins.
Zampa has been an integral part of Australia's impressive run after a slow start to the tournament and became the first man in ODI World Cup history to take at least three wickets in five consecutive games during the win over England. The spinner is the second leading wicket-taker at the tournament with 19 and needs just one more scalp to equal Warne's World Cup record of 20 wickets for Australia at the 1999 campaign.
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The 31-year-old's 19 wickets have come at an impressive average of 17.15 and leave him just two wickets behind Brad Hogg's all-time Australian record of 21 scalps taken at the 2007 edition of the World Cup. Warne played 10 matches for his 20 wickets in England in 1999 at an average of 18.05. Hogg played in 11 games in 2007 in the West Indies, taking 21 wickets at 15.8.
Making Zampa's returns all the more impressive is that this has not been a World Cup for the spinners so far. India's pitches and others across the sub-continent have long been considered spinners wickets but this World Cup has invariably favoured the quicks.
While Zampa occupies second spot in the wicket-takers list at this World Cup, all the other men inside the top seven are fast bowlers. Sri Lanka's Dilshan Madushanka leads the way with 21 wickets but has played one more game than Zampa and the Aussies, giving the 31-year-old a golden chance to reclaim top spot against Afghanistan.
"(That was) as satisfying as it feels after an ODI in terms of my 10 overs," Zampa said after his side's win over England. The spinner claimed man-of-the-match honours after taking 3-21 with the ball and contributing a handy 29 with the bat. "Bowling mainly to lefties, (Dawid) Malan, (Ben) Stokes, (Moeen) Ali, they're quality players.
"And to sit back, knowing that I went for 20 runs off 10 overs, my length control was as good as it's been." There are curious parallels between Warne's 1999 tournament and Zampa's current World Cup campaign.
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Both men had difficult build-ups to the tournament, with Warne dropped from the Test team in 1999 and Zampa short of his best in white-ball cricket heading to India. Warne battled personal issues like Zampa, struggled for form at the start of the World Cup, with the latter hampered by hamstring issues and back spasms at the beginning of this tournament.
Ashton Agar's injury left Zampa as Australia's only front-line spin option, with players such as Glenn Maxwell and Travis Head offering more part-time options. Zampa has risen to the occasion for Australia though, reviving his tournament with 18 wickets at 11.27 in his past five games.
"Instead of thinking about it as responsibility I said, 'You (coaches) must think I'm pretty good if you think I can do the job by myself'," Zampa said. "I took it as a lot of confidence to be honest."
Warne's 1999 campaign ended with him spinning out South Africa in the tied semi-final and bamboozling Pakistan in the decider to help Australia lift the trophy. It remains to be seen if Zampa can repeat the same heroics over the next fortnight, but a win on Tuesday night will give him and Australia the best chance of doing so. A win over Afghanistan will all but ensure the Aussies book a semi-final date with South Africa and avoid unbeaten hosts, India.
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