Sri Lanka magnificently defended a revised total of 187 off 41 overs to dismiss Afghanistan for 152 off 32.4 overs to clinch a morale-boosting win which could do them a lot of good for the rest of the tournament when they come against the much stronger sides. The Afghanistan batting was undone by fast bowlers Nuwan Pradeep who bowled superbly to take four wickets for 31 off nine overs to win the Man of the Match award.
The wily and experienced Lasith Malinga then finished off the Afghanistan innings with his typical slow yorkers that saw him end with figures of 3 for 39. Afghanistan lost their first five wickets for 57 runs before recovering to 121 through a 64-run partnership between skipper Gulbadin Naib and Najibul Zadran. But Sri Lanka knowing the only way they could win was to bowl the opposition out pursued that task with determination with all their bowlers putting their hands up to fashion out the win.
The run out of Najibul for a defiant 43 off 56 balls by a direct throw from skipper Karunaratne from cover was the last straw for Afghanistan as they saw their last hope of winning fade away. Sri Lanka invited to bat first under overcast conditions had only themselves to blame for their poor batting as their batsmen squandered a great start to lose nine wickets for 57 runs and be bowled out for 201 – the second time they had failed to play out their full quota of overs in this World Cup.
With rain curtailing play during the Lankan innings the contest was reduced to 41 overs a side, but Sri Lanka once again fell short being bundled out in 36.5 overs. Against New Zealand in the first match their innings lasted for only 29.2 overs. Sri Lanka certainly has a major problem with their top order batting and the constant shuffling of players from positions is certainly not helping their cause.
In yesterday’s game Kusal Perera was promoted ahead of Lahiru Thirimanne to open the innings with Karunaratne and the pair laid the platform for a big Sri Lanka total by posting 92 off 79 balls. After Karunaratne was dismissed by Mohammad Nabi for 30, Thirimanne who came at the fall of the first wicket carried the total to 144 reaching 3000 ODI runs in the process before the innings began to fall apart. Nabi who had given Afghanistan the initial breakthrough bowled a splendid spell to break the back of the middle order by sending back Thirimanne for 25 and then striking a double blow in his next over to dismiss Kusal Mendis (2) and Angelo Mathews (0). When Dhananjaya de Silva and Thisara Perera fell in quick succession Sri Lanka had slumped to 159-6 from a seemingly strong position with Nabi having claimed four of them with his off-breaks on a pitch where there was hardly any assistance for him, but making full use of his IPL and county experience to draw the batsmen into a false stroke.
Only Kusal Perera stood tall amongst the ruins to score an aggressive 78 off 81 balls (8 fours) before falling to a reverse sweep off Rashid Khan. From the time he took strike Perera was in a positive frame of mind and capitalised on some poor bowling by Dawlat Zadran and Hamid Hasan to post 79 in the first 10 power play over. Things were certainly looking good for Sri Lanka at that stage before everything suddenly decided to fall apart.Sri Lanka’s collapse had nothing to do with the wicket but due to lack of application and poor shot selection which they will have to address quite seriously if they hope to progress further in the tournament.