by Stephan Shemilt, BBC Sport
England’s miserable World Cup ended with a low-key nine-wicket victory over Afghanistan in Sydney.
After rain reduced England’s target to 101 from 25 overs, Ian Bell made an unbeaten 52 to complete the chase with 41 balls to spare.
Afghanistan had earlier been limited to 111-7 from 36.2 overs when the weather intervened for the third time.
England finish fifth in Pool A having beaten only the Afghans and Scotland in their six matches.
Winning just twice is England’s joint-worst return from a World Cup, matching the 1996 tournament. On that occasion, they did at least make it to the quarter-finals.
In Australia and New Zealand, they have suffered heavy defeats by the co-hosts and Sri Lanka, while a loss to Bangladesh in Adelaide confirmed their exit.
That rendered their first one-day international meeting with Afghanistan as a dead rubber, played out in front of a sparse crowd at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The rain, two short intervals and one that kept the players off the field for two and-a-half hours, sucked much of the meaning from an already nondescript contest.
And it was in a match with little riding on it that England found some of the skills they have lacked for most of the tournament – consistency of length with the ball, few mistakes in the field and top-order aggression with the bat.
With cloud cover and a green-tinged wicket providing assistance, England’s seamers worked through an Afghan top order that showed collective uncertainty outside off-stump.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad had catches held at first slip to dismiss Nawroz Mangal and Javed Ahmadi respectively, before Chris Jordan enticed Afsar Zazai to edge behind and Samiullah Shenwari to flash a cut shot to point.
From 34-4 Afghanistan were in danger of capitulation, but the middle-order steadied, without threatening to damage the England attack.
Shafiqullah’s patient 30 was compiled in the company of Nasir Jamal Ahmadzai and Mohammad Nabi, the former edging to wicketkeeper Jos Buttler after the second rain break, the latter well caught by James Tredwell at mid-on, both off Ravi Bopara.
Then, when Shafiqullah was brilliantly held at deep square leg by a diving Bopara from the spin of Tredwell, it was the last major action before the longest rain delay.
Puddles formed around the square and out the outfield, but the rain relented for play to get under way at 20:45 local time.
When the players returned, Hales and Bell took advantage of the inaccuracies of the feisty Afghanistan pace bowlers.
Hales, twice dropped by Najib Zadran at point off the bowling of Shapoor Zadran, pulled a six in the second over and continued to go after anything short.
Bell, more fluent than at any other time in the competition, unfurled pulls and drives as an opening stand of 77 ensured a swift conclusion and no hint of an upset.
Hales’ poke to wicketkeeper Zazai was reward for the lively Hamid Hassan, leaving James Taylor to complete the job with Bell.
Still, it was Afghanistan who had the louder fans at the conclusion. In their historic first World Cup campaign, they have finished one place and one win behind England.