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.
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