In their short international cricket history, Afghanistan nearly pulled off their biggest success against a side, which has won the World Cup once. There was one thriller two days ago, when Zimbabwe played UAE but no one thought of another in such a short time, in which a non-regular cricket nation would take a full ICC member to the brink of a humiliating defeat. In the end, it was Sri Lankan veteran Mahela Jayawardane, who stood solidly, scored a century and ensured that the Afghani dreams were shattered. Batting first, Afghanistan reached 157/3 in the 33rd over with a scoring rate touching 5 runs an over. Just when they looked cool, determined and capable to carry on at the same rollicking tempo, a few wickets fell. But Sri Lanka couldn’t go for the kill and allowed lower order Afghan batsmen to carry the score to 232 in the 50th over. Sri Lanka made a mess of themselves, when they came out to chase 233. But Jayawardane and Thisara Perera prevented what could have been an unmitigated disaster for Sri Lankan cricket. Jayawardane fell a bit early but Perera completed a face-saving victory with 10 balls remaining in the match.
Sri Lanka won the toss and asked Afghanistan to bat first. They probably thought that Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal and Angelo Mathews would dictate terms to the Afghan batsmen. That didn’t happen as the carefree and happy-go-lucky Afghanis treated the Sri Lankan bowlers with disdain. They were unafraid as they stepped out to drive Malinga and Lakmal and crashed Mathews at will. The first wicket fell at 34 and the second at 40, But afterwards, an 88-run partnership blossomed between Asghar Stanikzai and Samiullah Shenwari that carried the score to 128. There was little Captain Mathews could do as the Afghan batsmen held fort and played like accomplished professionals. But Stanikzai fell, when he danced down the track to lift Rangana Herath and ended up holing out to a fielder inches within the leg-side boundary. Shenwari also threw away his wicket 29 runs later. But at 157/4, Afghanistan still posed problems for Sri Lanka side. They crossed 200 and ended up with 232 all out in 49.4 overs.
Under normal circumstances, the target of 233 should have been a cake-walk for Sri Lanka but the top order batsmen couldn’t handle Afghanistan bowling in early overs. Lahiru Thirimanne and Tilakaratne Dilshan collected ducks and Sri Lanka slipped to 2/2 after the first 8 balls of the innings. Then Hamid Hassan bolwed one wide on the offside that swung viciously inwards to sneak through Sangakkara’s gate and the seasoned Sri Lankan was on his way back to the players’ dungeon. 18/3 in the sixth over was not what Sri Lanka planned for. Then Hassan produced another beauty in the twelfth over, when one more of his in-swingers found the outer edge of Dimuth Karunaratne’s bat and the second-slip fielder held the catch after an initial fumble. 51/4 in 12 overs was ominous with top order nearly polished off. At this time, Mahela Jayawardane and Angelo Mathews engineered a crucial turnaround. They began batting steadily with one eye firmly fixed on preserving wickets. Mathews was lucky to escape being run-out on two occasions and that helped the two experienced Sri Lankans in adding an invaluable 159 for the fifth wicket. This saved Sri Lanka because though Mathews and Jayawardane departed by the 42nd over, the task had become relatively easier. Batting forcefully, Thisara Perera scored 47 off 26 balls and with an able support from Jeevan Mendis, ensured that Sri Lanka won the Sunday thriller by 4 wickets with 10 deliveries left.
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