Having collapsed from a stranglehold of 144 for 2 wickets in 21.2 overs to 180 for 8 in 32.2 overs and rallied to 201 all out in 36.5 overs in a rain red 41 over match, Sri Lanka fought back to stop Afghanistan’s charge after the first wicket had posted 34 runs in just 4.4 overs to pull off a 34-run win in their second match of the IC C World Cup 2019 at the Sophia Gardens, Cardiff. Afghanistan, set 187 to win on the revised D/L method, was bowled out for 152 in 32.4 overs. When it seemed the demons at Cardiff had haunted the Lankans as in the previous game in the loss to New Zealand, medium paceman Nuwan Pradeep came on second change to throttle Afghanistan with career best figures of 4 for 31 off 9 overs.
It seemed minnows Afghanistan had taken away the game from Sri Lanka when both opening bowlers Lasith Malinga and Sseduranga Lakmal wilted against the early onslaught of Hazratullah Zazai and when Kusal Mendis dropped a straight forward outfield chance off Mohammad Shazad, the Lankans were in disarray. But few balls later Malinga, who had taken some stick, sent back Shazad who had played a passive support role to Zazai, was caught by skipper Dimuth Karunaratne for 07. It was the advent of Isuru Udana, who replaced Lakmal, who then checked Afghanistan’s run charge with a tight first spell sending back Rahmat Shah caught by Mathews for 2. Pradeep joined in the act as the duo bowled impeccably. Pradeep, returning to the fold after a long injury lay off, bowled his heart out to swing back the initiative Sri Lanka’s way with some controlled pace bowling which the opposition could not cope with. It put back the muscle on the rest as he broke the back of the Afghanistan front liners accounting for the dangerous Zazai for 30 caught brilliantly by Thisara Perera on the leg side to a running catch scooping the ball low and trapping Gulbadin Naib the skipper leg before wicket for 23. Before that Thisara Perera had clean bowled Mohammad Nabi for 11 as Afghanistan tottered on 57 for 5 off 13. 4 overs. It was apt compensation by Perera for a major lapse having run himself out when his side needed him most. Lasith Malinga returned to polish off the tail clean bowling Najibullah Zadran (6) and Hamid Hasan (6) with trademark toe crusher Yorkers.
It was some ecstasy for the Sri Lankans from the early scares and the defeat to New Zealand as Dimuth Karunaratne displayed captaincy gall rising to the occasion with a spot on direct hit to the bowlers end to run out Naibullah Zadran (43, 56 bslls, 6×4) who had staged a Afghanistan recovery and was ninth out with the total on 145.
Sri Lanka Lanka’s innings had begun prosperously with Kusal Janith Perera and Karunaratne putting on 92 off 13.1 overs when the skipper fell for 30 off 45 deliveries inclusive of 3 boundaries. Kusal Janith went on to top score with 78 off 81 hitting 8 boundaries in a brutalizing the Afghanistan attack and at one stage the total read a lofty 144 for 2 off 21.2 after the fall of one drop batsman Lahiru Thirimanne who made 25. But the scenario was to change soon after as Nabi took 3 wickets in an over that of Kusal Mendis for 2, Angelo Mathews for his second successive duck swishing at a ball outside the off stump from inside the crease with no footwork as against New Zealand and Dhananjaya de Silva also for his second pair of ducks. As against New Zealand the frontline trio had perished miserably putting the onus on Kusal Janith Perera to stage a lone battle and later the tail of Suranga Lakmal (15 n.o.) and Isuru Udana (10) to bail out the side past the 200 mark. Thisara Perera too was guilty of a bad let down partnering Kusal Janith charging down the wicket with the shot to the close in fielder finding himself stranded as Sri Lanka slipped to 159 for 6. Nabi returned figures of 4 for 30 and off spinner Rashid Khan 2 for 17. Nuwan Pradeep was adjudged Player of the Match.
Sri Lanka 201 all out (36.5 Overs) Run rate: 5.45)
(M.D.K.J. Perera 78, F.D.M. Karunaratne 30, R.A.S. lakmal 15 n.o., I. Udana 10, M. Nabi 4/30, R. Khan 2/17).
Afghanistan 152 (32.4 Overs) Run Rate: 4.65:
(N. Zadran 43, H. Zazai 30, G. Naib 23, N. Pradeep 4/31, S.L. Malinga 3/39)
By Srian Obeyesekere
-The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sri Lanka Cricket-