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Sri Lanka avoided Afghanistan scare qualify for Super 4

4 min read
srilanka vs afganistan

credit: ASIF HASSAN/AFP via Getty Images

In a match for the ages in Lahore, Sri Lanka defeated Afghanistan despite winning hearts and minds. The scorecard will indicate that Sri Lanka triumphed by two runs, marking their 12th consecutive ODI victory, but that just scrapes the surface of a contest that might have gone any way.

Afghanistan understood at the toss that any chase would need to be finished in roughly 37 overs for them to get their NRR to qualification requirements after their crushing defeat to Bangladesh. This situation was made a little more interesting by the fact that, if they were successful, Sri Lanka’s NRR would fall below both Bangladesh’s and Afghanistan’s, removing the current champions.

Afghanistan had to complete their mark in 37.1 overs since Sri Lanka finished on 291 for 8 thanks to Kusal Mendis’ 84-ball 92 and a late stand between Dunith Wellalage and Maheesh Theekshana. Sri Lanka led the chase for the majority of the time, but Mohammad Nabi’s 32-ball 65 kindled the spark of hope that quickly swept across the Afghan camp.

Nabi entered the room needing 171 from 110, and by the time he collapsed, the equation had changed to 91 from 64. In between, during an innings that featured six fours and five sixes, he had pulled, whacked, cut, and slapped Sri Lanka’s bowlers all around the Gaddafi Stadium.

The influence of Nabi’s innings was such that the other hitters, who had previously battled to keep up with the run pace against Bangladesh two days before, would find the boundaries when necessary.

In the end, Mujeeb Ur Rahman had to score three runs off of one ball, thanks to Rashid Khan, who hit three boundaries in the final four deliveries of the 37th over. At long-on, Mujeeb would hole out, but that wouldn’t be the last of it.

Afghanistan may have still been eligible if they had raised their total to 295 in 37.5 overs, or practically with a single six, according to the maths. Amazingly, though, it doesn’t seem like the Afghan players were informed of this. As the No. 11, Farooqi would execute two defensive strokes before getting trapped lbw on an attempt at a third block. Rashid cut a dejected face at the other end as Sri Lanka pulled off an unlikely victory to take first place in Group B.

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Though Sri Lanka was comfortably in charge before Nabi’s intervention, much more so after the powerplay. The early enforcer, Kasun Rajitha, claimed the wickets of top-order batsmen Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran for a total of 4 for 79. Having been moved up the order, Gulbadin Naib attempted a quick comeback with a 16-ball 20 that featured four boundaries, but Matheesha Pathirana caught him lbw with the first ball.

The Afghans were subsequently kept in the game by a 71-run partnership between Hashmatullah Shahidi and Rahmat Shah, but Sri Lanka didn’t start to take Sri Lanka seriously until Nabi entered the game. No one was secure during this time, neither on the pitch nor in the stands, as Nabi easily detected the openings. He would make his first attack against Pathirana at 244, Rajitha at 160, Shanaka at 366, and Wellalage at 233. He only really struggled against Theekshana, yet even then, he struck at 128 against him. So it seems sense that Theekshana would be the one to fire him.

Nabi had contributed to restricting Sri Lanka to a sub-300 total in Lahore, on another excellent batting surface, before he almost won the game. He was the only bowler on both teams to go wicketless in 10 overs while only yielding 35 runs, or less than six runs per over. To confine the Lankans to a manageable objective of 292, this would be essential. Naib and Rashid were the players that caused the most damage with the ball, finishing with statistics of 4 for 60 and 2 for 63, respectively.

At several stages during their batting innings, Sri Lanka threatened, but failed, to put Afghanistan out of the game. Before Naib struck, the opening stand of 63 off 62 between Pathum Nissanka and Dimuth Karunaratne appeared dangerous. Soon after, he would get two more, leaving Sri Lanka on 86 for three.

Then, after 102 runs were added by Mendis and Charith Asalanka for the fourth wicket, Rashid would bowl to terminate the partnership. Later, after Dasun Shanaka lost a return catch that deflected onto the stumps of the non-striker, he would accidentally run out Mendis. In order to put Sri Lanka at risk of not finishing their 50 overs, he would also have Shanaka, casting the Lankan captain around his legs.

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However, Wellalage struck the ball at this point that ultimately gave Sri Lanka the victory. Wellalage and Theekshana put up a partnership of 64 runs at a touch over run-a-ball after Sri Lanka had reached 227 for 7 in the 40th over to help the team to their final winning score. While Theekshana contributed 28 in 24, he would make 33 in 39.