Afghanistan and Sri Lanka locked horns for a thrilling encounter in the final group stage. With Bangladesh qualified already, it was a fierce battle between two cricket-crazed nations for the final berth in the last four stages. The Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore was the arena for the final showdown.
The two teams were battle-ready by fielding their strongest eleven possible.
1. Pathum Nissanka 2. Dimuth Karunaratne 3. Kusal Mendis (WK) 4. Sadeera Samarawickrama 5. Charith Asalanka 6. Dhananjaya de Silva 7. Dasun Shanaka (Cap) 8. Dunith Wellage 9. Mahesh Theekshana 10. Kasun Rajitha 11. Matheesha Pathirana
1. Rahmanullah Gurbaz (WK) 2. Ibrahim Zadran 3. Gulbadin Naib 4. Rahmat Shah 5. Hashmatullah Shahidi (Cap) 6. Mohammad Nabi 7. Karim Janat 8. Najibullah Zadran 9. Rashid Khan 10. Mujeeb Ur Rahman 11. Fazalhaq Farooqi
Captaincy and Tactics
Hashmatullah Shahidi showed his cricketing acumen by using spin bowlers well. Rashid Khan picked up wickets on important occasions to keep Sri Lanka within touching distance.
Dashun Shanaka was put under immense pressure by the explosive Afghan batters. But the Lankan skipper kept his cool and tried to come up with new plans to find an opening. His introduction of Theekshana and Wellalage was courageous and eventually paid off.
Hashmatullah Shahidi can feel a bit aggrieved as he failed to keep up with the climbing run rate. After Nabi got out, he was able to score only 11 from 17 balls (strike rate 64.70). Had he been able to chip in with a couple of boundaries, the game could have been won easily by his team.
Kusal Mendis played a blinder to set up a challenging total for the Afghans. The wicketkeeper-batsman was on song from the beginning and played all around the mark. His partners couldn’t keep with him as wickets continued to tumble down. Eventually, they got close to the 300 mark with two brilliant cameos from Theeksana and Wellalage.
Afghanistan’s target was 292 but they could have only qualified by fulfilling one of these requirements:
|1||292 from 37.1 overs|
|2||293 from 37.2 overs|
|3||294 from 37.3 overs|
|4||295 from 37.4 overs|
|5||296 from 38 overs|
|6||297 from 38.1 overs|
The Afghan innings were a testament to their fearless brand of cricket. Both their openers got out cheaply and Gulbadin Naib. The decision to promote the all-rounder up the order was a brave but justifiable one. Naib averages more (26.00, career average 23.11) and tends to score runs at a slower pace (strike rate 73.44, career strike rate 74.27). He scored 22 from 16 but couldn’t capitalize on the start.
Mohammed Nabi came and lit the fuse of belief again in the Afghan camp. The Sri Lankan bowlers were culpable of giving him width and the veteran hit massive sixes in the cover and mid-wicket region. Najib, Janat, and Rashid batted with fire in their bellies but it was not enough.
The Afghans struggled during the early exchange but came back to claim three thanks to Gulbadin Naib. The Afghan pacer bowled a spell of seven overs in the sweltering heat in Lahore. All the Afghan bowlers struggled to keep the run rate in check except Mohammad Nabi who conceded only 35 in his 10 overs. Rashid Khan seems relatively uncomfortable playing in the Asia Cup as his average (25.08) and economy rate (4.54) are higher than his career. But the cryptic leggy still claimed three wickets to disorient Lankan batting.
The Sri Lankan bowling was a tale of two halves. Before Nabi came to the crease the Lankan bowlers were all over the Afghan batsmen. But they lost the plot when Nabi started to thrash them all around the ground. But Wellalage (2 for 36) and Theekshana (1 for 62) kept Sri Lanka in the game. Rajitha was expensive but sent a quartet of Afghans to the pavilion. Finally, De Silva rose to the occasion and shined in the final over.
Kushal Mendis played a brilliant knock with poise and grace. His average when Sri Lanka wins the toss and elects to bat first (37.92) is much higher than his career average (31.68). The young pair of Theekshana and Wellalage took the total to a respectable limit as both rotated the strike and hit regular boundaries. Gulbadan Naib bowled brilliantly with accuracy mixed with verve and took 4 scalps. The wonder spinner Rashid took three wickets to restrict the Lankans within 300.
The Afghans fought courageously to reach the target within 37.1 overs. Rahmat Shah scored a quickfire 45 from 40 before eventually getting out cheaply. Mohammad Nabi celebrated his 38 birthday last January but the Afghan great rolled back the years with a flurry of boundaries. He scored at a devastating strike rate of 203.15.
Cameos from Karim Janat (22 from 13), Najibullah Zadran (23 from 15), and Rashid Khan (27 from 16) seemed to have won the game and it wasn’t to be a night for Afghanistan.
Kasun Rajitha went for plenty but his four wickets contributed massively. Wellalage and Theekshana took three amongst them after shining with the bat previously. Dhananjaya De Silva’s last over becomes a part of Asia Cup folklore as the part-time off-spinner kept a cool head to win the game for his country.
Both teams put valiant effort into the fielding department. There were brilliant catches under the lights, diving saves, and quick throws to round up an impressive day. Rashid Khan had a let-off when he missed the catch of De Silva but the ball got deflected towards the stumps to run Mendis at the other end.
Afghanistan was on course to qualify with a fierce batting display. In comes Dunith Wellalage, the Colombo-born young gun picks up Karim Janat with his first delivery of the spell. Four balls later, Hashmatullah Shahidi got caught on a short fine leg to turn the game on its head. This double strike damaged the Afghan change hugely and eventually proved to be a deciding factor.
Sri Lanka won the nail-biter by the margin of only two runs.
Player of the Match
Ill-fated Mendis couldn’t reach the three figures but the man of the match award was pleased with the Sri Lankan opener.
|Sri Lanka 291/8 (50 overs)||Afghanistan 289/10 (37.4 overs)|
|K. Mendis 92 (84)||M. Nabi 65 (32)|
|P. Nissanka 41 (40)||H. Shahidi 59 (66)|
|G. Naib 4/60||K Rajitha 4/79|
|R.Khan 2/63||D. De Silva 2/12|
It was a match that would be discussed for ages. The Afghans played with all their hearts and were almost able to climb the mountain of impediments thrown at them. But the Lankans held their nerves to snatch a wonderful victory and take some momentum into the last four. The Afghans could have still qualified after 37.1 overs with a six but their miscalculation cost them dearly in the end. This sort of unprofessional is beyond expectation at this highest level of cricket. Rashid Khan was destined to be the hero of the hour but at the twist of fate finally became a hapless hero straight from some Greek tragedy.