It speaks volumes about Sri Lanka’s decline as well as Afghanistan’s remarkable rise in international cricket that there is little to choose between the two ahead of their 2019 World Cup clash at Cardiff on Tuesday.
Both sides are looking to open their accounts in the World Cup after being comprehensively beaten in their respective campaign openers.
While Sri Lanka were handed a 10-wicket thrashing by New Zealand, Afghanistan had to contend with a seven-wicket loss to defending champions Australia.
SRI LANKA SEARCH FOR STABILITY
The 1996 champions have always packed a punch in World Cups and major tournaments but find themselves in danger of becoming the whipping boys of the 2019 edition after what has been a tumultuous period.
The islanders have been in a perennial decline since the retirements of several stalwarts and it is a damning indictment of their struggles that their only two bilateral ODI series wins since the turn of 2016 are against Ireland and Scotland.
Constant chopping and changing has seen Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga all take turns at donning the captaincy hat before it ultimately fell on Dimuth Karunaratne’s head for the ongoing World Cup.
Heading into the World Cup, the Sri Lanka Test veteran had not played a single ODI since 2015 but he was the only batsman to stand tall for the islanders amidst a shambolic display against the Kiwis.
Karunaratne carried his bat with an 84-ball 52 as Sri Lanka were bundled out for just 136 by the Kiwis at Cardiff. Despite that humbling at the hands of New Zealand, Karunaratne remains hopeful of a Sri Lanka resurgence.
“I think we have another eight games to go. We need to (keep our) chin up and play very well,” the Sri Lanka skipper had stated after the 10-wicket rout.
“We need to see what we have. On the back end we need to get some partnerships, (and in) the middle part. Those are the key areas. We’re looking forward to doing it.”
AFGHANISTAN COMING TO GRIPS WITH CAPTAINCY OVERHAUL
Like Sri Lanka, Afghanistan too had to contend with a late captaincy change ahead of the World Cup with experienced skipper Asghar Afghan being replaced by Gulbadin Naib. The major change right on the eve of a major tournament unsettled the squad with players such as Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi making their displeasure clear on social media.
However, it now seems like a thing of the past with the squad adjusting to Gulbadin’s captaincy.
“You won’t believe it, but sometimes I forget I am the captain,” Gulbadin had told ESPNcricinfo in a recent interview.
“There is no ego in the team. I keep laughing and having fun as before. Nor does any player feel that anything has changed with me becoming captain.”
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Perera (wk), Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Angelo Mathews, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Isuru Udana, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga.
Afghanistan: Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib (c), Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Hamid Hassan.
Kohli took the hit during training at the Ageas Bowl and was later seen with his hand dipped in a bucket of ice late on Saturday. But news from the Indian camp was that the injury is not too serious and the skipper should be up and running by Wednesday.
The Press Trust of India quoted a member of the Indian team as saying: “He is doing fine. There is nothing to worry.”
The bigger concern, however, is the fitness of Kedar Jadhav who is yet to reach 100 per cent after the shoulder injury he picked up during the IPL.
Jadhav missed India’s warm-up matches against New Zealand and Bangladesh. He has taken part in the net sessions but the fact that he has just started bowling and is slowly working his way towards batting without any discomfort means the management might want to wait for some more time before fielding him. The all-rounder also has a long-standing hamstring issue, which needs careful management.
Tendulkar, who lifted the World Cup with India in 2011, is making his commentary debut in the ongoing edition in England.
Speaking during his commentary stint on Star Sports, the Master Blaster said, “I am looking forward to Jofra Archer bowling for England because I know in the crunch moments, they are going to look at Jofra Archer to bowl those tight overs.”
“If you need a breakthrough, you need Archer to come and give you that breakthrough. Other than him, someone I’m really looking forward to is Rashid Khan from Afghanistan.
“I think he’s going to be instrumental in creating those upsets for the opposition in this tournament.”
Both Rashid and Archer had contrasting displays in their respective World Cup 2019 campaign openers. While Archer was sensational for England in their win over South Africa with figures of 3-27, Rashid had a difficult time in Afghanistan’s loss to Australia.
The Afghan leg-spin sensation picked up one wicket but was taken for 52 runs from his eight overs in his side’s seven-wicket loss to the defending champions.
Tendulkar, who has played in six World Cups, has advised Rashid to take a Test match approach to bowling in the competition.
“If I have to tell him something, I would tell him, ‘Feed this like a test match,’ because even in the T20 format, he was able to pick wickets because batters could not read what he had done to his wrist,” said Tendulkar.
“Do that and have an attacking field and challenge batters to hit over mid-on, mid-off and deep wicket. In today’s format, I would say challenge the batters and don’t disappoint Afghanistan fans.”