Sri Lanka, champions of last World Cup title, will take on Afghanistan at Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Thursday (March 17) and the credit goes to Afghanistan, if it manages a win against them or else,nothing to loose or cry about. Afghanistan and Zimbabwe are vying for the full-member sides, and its win over Sri Lanka would make doubly sure that it is in.
Play Starts 19:30 IST (14:00 GMT)
For Sri Lanka, the win against United Arab Emirates, was not a good experience and the team has struggled eveen in the two warm-up matches, against New Zealand and Pakistan. Its captain Angelo Mathews was however optimistic when he said:"Coming in as the underdogs really releases the pressure out of the players,” he said the day before the match. “We haven’t done well in the recent past, especially in the Asia Cup. But we’ve got better, day by day. Even in the last couple of practice games, we were getting better each time. I’m very confident about my team’s progress."
In fact, Sri Lanka’s past experience in the world cup had shown it that initial losses will gain more wins as they moved on to finals. Moreover, the limited overs games are highly unpredictable and Sri Lanka has made the knockout stages in all the editions barring the first one in 2007, finishing as runner-up in 2009 and 2012, while it won in 2014.
Afghanistan, for all its good form and fortune, is obviously wary to play with the champions. Lahiru Thirimanne has been in good nick recently, scoring a 29-ball 41 and a 37-ball 45 at No. 3 in the warm-ups, while Dinesh Chandimal scored two half-centuries at the Asia Cup, and made 30 against Pakistan in the warm-up. Today’s batting will revolve around how the two perform.
“They are two very good players,” said Mathews. “They read the game and the situations very well. And Chandimal, we saw in the last game and throughout the Asia Cup, batted really well. Thirimanne has batted the best out of the lot. Those two are very talented players. We bank on them and trust them. As seniors, they will take up the challenge. They will deliver.”
Malinga looks set to miss out again, though, with Mathews revealing he “bowled a couple of overs today with his short run-up; he is yet to bowl with is full run-up”. He did, though, reveal that a call on Malinga’s participation would be taken on the morning of the match.
Even in Malinga’s absence, if Nuwan Kulasekara, one of Sri Lanka’s better bowlers in the Asia Cup, and Mathews himself can keep things tight, the slow conditions may help Rangana Herath do some damage.
“We don’t want to look too far ahead,” said Mathews. “We just want to take it one game at a time. We know we haven’t done too well in the past. We just want that one win to get our momentum back. We’re really only concentrating on tomorrow’s game.”
For Afghanistan, the key is to not get frazzled by the big stage. With the experienced duo of Inzamam-ul-Haq and Manoj Prabhakar in the support staff, there is a maturity in the way Afghanistan has gone about its cricket so far in the tournament.
There have been no sudden collapses from good positions – it’s a characteristic Afghanistan has recently ditched, and it is key for the team to ensure it remains composed even in the Super 10 stage.
Since 2010 World T20 in England, the Afghan team has managed to qualify for all the major international tournaments, including the 50-over World Cup in 2015. They have won 16 out of 19 T20 matches, thanks to Shahzad, their in-form opener and wicketkeeper.
On the eve of the match, Asghar Stanikzai , the captain, said, “We are looking forward to beating some big teams. We were close to beating Sri Lanka in the 2015 (50-over) World Cup. But they had good, experienced batsmen in (Kumar) Sangakkara and (Mahela) Jayawardene, who played outstanding to beat us. This time, they do not have those names, and most of their players are out of form. We have a good chance to beat them this time.”
As is evident from Stanikzai’s words, Afghanistan is pumped up. And Sri Lanka knows it. “Afghanistan, you can’t really call them minnows,” said Mathews. “They have beaten all the teams in the qualifying stages very easily, and we take them very seriously. Any given day, they can upset any team. So we have to play really good cricket to beat Afghanistan.”
Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (capt), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Noor Ali Zadran, Usman Ghani, Mohammad Nabi, Karim Sadiq, Shafiqullah Shafiq, Rashid Khan, Ameer Hamza, Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Samiullah Shenwari, Najibullah Zadran, Hamid Hassan.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Shehan Jayasuriya, Sachithra Senanayake, Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Milinda Siriwardana, Chamara Kapugedara, Thisara Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Rangana Herath, Nuwan Kulasekara, Dushmantha Chameera, Dasun Shanaka, Jeffrey Vandersay, Lasith Malinga.