Pune: Emboldened by back-to-back wins, a tenacious Sri Lanka will need to guard against complacency when they face a spirited Afghanistan in a battle for survival at the World Cup here on Monday.
With two wins from five matches, both Sri Lanka and Afghanistan have kept alive their outside hopes of making it to the semifinals, provided they don’t suffer any hiccups and also other results go their way in the showpiece.
However, only one team can emerge victorious from this contest, dashing the slim chances of the other.
After three successive defeats, Sri Lanka have revived some hopes with two convincing victories but they will take Afghanistan lightly at their own peril, knowing well that the Afghans are capable of punching above their weight.
Afghanistan have sent shock waves across the world with wins over England and Pakistan and will look to knock the wind out of the sails of Sri Lanka to continue their success story.
For the Islanders, it was the result of some tight bowling, led by pacer Lahiru Kumara, and fielding that saw them dismantle the defending champions in their last game.
The return of experienced all-rounder Angelo Matthews has helped the bowling unit to ace the middle overs and Sri Lanka will hope to continue the trend.
Sri Lanka have been guilty of conceding too many runs in the past but Lahiru’s emergence has offered their bowling a fresh lease of life.
He has been their main fast bowling weapon and it helped the Lankans to control the game. Dilshan Madushanka and Kusan Rajitha have taken 11 and 7 wickets so far in the event and will need to produce the goods.
Maheesh Theekshana, however, hasn’t really set things on fire with his spin.
In batting, Pathum Nissanka and Sadeera Samarawickrama have emerged as two of their best ODI batters this year and the duo scripted a superlative chase to outwit England the other day.
Nissanka, with his fourth consecutive fifty of this tournament, and Samarawickrama with his second, have got the job done for the Lankans. Kusal Mendis too have scored a ton.
Afghanistan, on the other hand, are coming into the match after recording their highest successful chase in ODIs with a solid top-order display.
Opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz, with 224 runs, has been their best batter but Ibrahim Zadran, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Rahmat Shah have also came good in the last match and they will look to carry the confidence against the Lankans.
Azmatullah Omarzai too has a fifty to his name.
If Naveen-ul-Haq and Fazalhaq Farooqi can get the Afghans early wickets then they have the quality in their spin rank with Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who have proved their worth so far, to take care of the rest.
The wicket at the MCA stadium is likely to be another belter and a 300-plus total should be on the cards.
Going by records, Afghanistan have won just thrice in 11 ODIs against Sri Lanka but never in the two meetings in the World Cup.
But two of those wins came in June this year and November last year at Hambantota and Pallekele respectively and Afghanistan will draw inspiration from that when they face the Lankans.
Sri Lanka: Kusal Mendis (c), Kusal Perera, Pathum Nissanka, Lahiru Kumara, Dimuth Karunaratne, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Maheesh Theekshana, Dunith Wellalage, Kasun Rajitha, Angelo Mathews, Dilshan Madushanka, Dushan Hemantha, Chamika Karunaratne.
Afghanistan: Hashmatullah Shahidi (c), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Ibrahim Zadran, Riaz Hassan, Rahmat Shah, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Ikram Alikhil (wk), Azmatullah Omarzai, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Noor Ahmad, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Abdul Rahman and Naveen ul Haq.
(Published 29 October 2023, 08:31 IST)