Sri Lanka opened their account in the 2019 World Cup with a 34-run win over Afghanistan in a rain-curtailed match where the pendulum swung both ways at Cardiff.
A superb bowling display from Nuwan Pradeep (4-31) was at the heart of Sri Lanka’s win over the Afghans after the islanders had managed only a paltry 201 with the bat.
However, Pradeep and veteran Lasith Malinga (3-39) were on song with the ball as Afghanistan were bundled out for just 152 in their chase of a revised target of 187.
After a disastrous batting effort against New Zealand, Sri Lanka started much stronger against the Afghans with openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera racing away to a 92-run stand.
That brisk partnership was broken by Mohammad Nabi who got the better of Sri Lanka skipper Karunaratne. The islanders still looked to be in control with Perera bringing up a quick-fire half century before Nabi introduced carnage in the 22nd over of the innings.
The Afghanistan off-spinner sent back Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews in the same over before Hamid Hassan removed Dhanajaya de Silva at the other end.
That spate of wickets saw Sri Lanka go from 144-1 to 149-5 in an extraordinary collapse and it was a setback they could never recover from once Rashid Khan ended danger-man Perera’s stay on 78.
In response, Afghanistan never got going in their chase with wickets falling at regular intervals. Apart from opener Hazratullah Zazai who made 30, only Najibullah Zadran offered any real resistance with a fighting 43.
The rest of the batting unit caved under the pressure created by Sri Lanka’s fast bowlers with Pradeep putting in his best-ever ODI showing.
Afghans throw away golden opportunity
Afghanistan came into their second World Cup campaign with a fast-developing reputation and the team was expected to cause a few upsets in the tournament. However, their bating effort against Sri Lanka was as poor as they come with Gulbadin Naib’s men throwing away a golden opportunity.
A Sri Lanka side short on confidence were there for the taking as shown by their dramatic batting collapse but Afghanistan showed poor application with the bat in return with their batsmen looking unsure of whether to attack or milk the singles.
The lack of a clear game plan while chasing was evident and the tendency of their batsmen to hit their way out of pressure will fail more times than it works.
The Sri Lanka pacer has endured a frustrating career blighted by injures but he was the man who got the team’s World Cup campaign back on track on Tuesday just when it looked like all hope had been lost.
The only way Sri Lanka were going to get back into the game after a disastrous batting collapse was a sensational bowling effort and that is exactly what Pradeep provided with an inspired spell of fast bowling.
The right-armed pacer dismissed Afghanistan’s two most dangerous batsmen in Hazratullah Zazai and Hashmatullah Shahidi with the extra bounce he generated doing the trick.
He then did Afghanistan skipper Gulbadin Naib and Rashid Khan with fuller deliveries soon after to put Sri Lanka in the driving seat. Without his stellar display, Sri Lanka could have been starting at another defeat.
A win at last for Malinga
Sri Lanka’s win over Afghanistan meant that Lasith Malinga finally ended up on the right side of an ODI result for the first time since July, 2017.
The veteran pacer had not tasted a single ODI victory since Sri Lanka beat Zimbabwe in 2017. Since then, he had been a part of 21 losses while one match had ended in a no-result.
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