Sri Lanka wary of dangerous Afghans
It’s often forgotten that around four decades ago, Sri Lanka were exactly where Afghanistan are today.
Sri Lanka began their journey as associates and waded through rough waters before winning the 1996 World Cup and establishing themselves as one of the premier One-Day International sides around. It’s going to be a while before Afghanistan achieve what Sri Lanka have, but when the two sides meet in Dunedin on Sunday (February 22), Afghanistan would be eager to take some notes and maybe even throw in a punch or two to highlight their intent.
The likelihood of Afghanistan pulling the rug from under Sri Lanka’s feet is dependent on which Sri Lankan side comes out at University Oval. Should Afghanistan face the side still sapped from the 98-run loss to New Zealand in the World Cup opener a week ago, they stand a good chance. But if Sri Lanka bring their A game to the table to make up for the loss and set themselves up for a spot in the knockouts from Pool A, Afghanistan are going to have a tough task on their hands.
It’s likely that the biggest factor will be Lasith Malinga. The paceman, returning from a six-month layoff due to injury, was a far cry from his devastating self against New Zealand, where he conceded 84 runs from ten overs with no wickets against his name.
Malinga must be aching to terrorise batsmen once again and a tie against the Afghans is perhaps his best chance to get back in his groove should Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lankan skipper, keep him in the playing XI.
“We believe he’ll come back strongly in the next few matches,” said Lahiru Thirimanne on Saturday.
While Malinga’s form is a concern, Sri Lanka have a lot on their minds with respect to their batting. Chasing a daunting 331, Sri Lanka were in control with Thirimanne handling the wheel, but in losing nine wickets for a mere 109 more runs, they showed just how vulnerable they could be against disciplined bowling.
As evidenced in their tie against Bangladesh – their debut at the World Cup – Afghanistan could be clinical with the ball. While their batting faltered repeatedly in their 105-run loss to Bangladesh, Afghanistan’s bowling unit, led by Shapoor Zadran, showed a lot of grit and control despite lacking threatening pace.
“Sri Lanka will be a step up, but I think my biggest message is you haven’t seen Afghanistan play yet,” said Andy Moles, the Afghanistan coach. “The issue with associate cricket is at times its inconsistency. When we’re good, we’re very good. Hopefully, come Sri Lanka, they’ll do better. It’s like a teacher with children; we have to educate them every day to get better, and you have good days and you have bad days.”
The World Cup has already witnessed an upset in Pool B with Ireland toppling West Indies.
Mathews, well aware of the repercussions should Sri Lanka crash out in the league stage, said he would be fielding his strongest side to avoid the possibility of another upset.
“They’re a very dangerous team. You can’t take them lightly because they can upset a team, and they’ve got nothing to lose,” said Mathews.
“We can’t just run through them. We’ve got to fight really hard from ball one to ball 300 probably, and fight it out and just take it as a Test-playing nation.”
Afghanistan: Javed Ahmadi, Afsar Zazai (wk), Nawroz Mangal, Asghar Stanikzai, Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Nabi (capt), Najibullah Zadran, Mirwais Ashraf, Aftab Alam, Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran, Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Nasir Jamal, Usman Ghani.
Sri Lanka: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Dimuth Karunaratne, Angelo Mathews (capt), Jeevan Mendis, Rangana Herath, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera, Dinesh Chandimal, Nuwan Kulasekara, Thisara Perera, Sachithra Senanayake.