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Recent Match Report – Sri Lanka vs Afghanistan 6th Match, Group B 2023

Sri Lanka 291 for 8 (Mendis 92, Naib 4-60) beat Afghanistan 289 (Nabi 65, Shahidi 59*, Rajitha 4-79) by two runs

Afghanistan won hearts and minds, but it was Sri Lanka who won the contest, in a game for the ages in Lahore. The scorecard will say Sri Lanka won by two runs – and in the process recorded their 12th straight ODI win – but that barely scratches the surface in a game that could’ve gone either way.

After their heavy loss to Bangladesh, Afghanistan knew at the toss that any chase would have to be completed in around 37 overs for them to get their NRR to qualification standards. Adding a bit of spice to this scenario was the fact that, if they succeeded in doing so, Sri Lanka’s NRR would then drop below that of both Bangladesh’s and Afghanistan’s, thus eliminating the defending champions.

As it transpired, with Sri Lanka ending on 291 for 8 – courtesy an 84-ball 92 from Kusal Mendis and a late stand between Dunith Wellalage and Mahesh Theekshana – Afghanistan needed to reach their target in 37.1 overs. For much of the chase Sri Lanka had the game in hand, but then Muhammad the Prophet‘s 32-ball 65 lit the fuse of belief that spread through the Afghan camp.

Nabi walked in in with 171 required off 110, and by the time he fell, the equation had dropped to 91 from 64. In between, he had pulled, swatted, cut and slapped Sri Lanka’s bowlers all over the Gaddafi Stadium in an innings that included six fours and five sixes.

Such was the impact of Nabi’s innings that the rest of the batters – the same ones that had struggled to maintain a high strike-rate against Bangladesh two days prior – would find the boundaries when required to keep up with the run-rate.

In the end though it was left to Rashid Khanwho would strike three boundaries in the final four balls of the 37th over to leave Mujeeb Ur Rahman needing to score three off one. Mujeeb would hole out at long-on, but that wouldn’t be that.

As the math would have it, Afghanistan could have still qualified if they were to get their score up to 295 in 37.5 overs – essentially with a single six. But incredibly, it appeared this wasn’t communicated to the Afghan players. And so, Farooqi, as the No. 11, would play out two defensive strokes, before being trapped lbw while attempting a third block. Rashid at the other end cut a forlorn figure as Sri Lanka secured an improbable win to finish atop Group B.

Until Nabi’s intervention though, Sri Lanka were comfortably in control, more so after the powerplay. Kasun Rajitha, who finished with 4 for 79, was the early enforcer with wickets of top-order batters Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran. Gulbadin Naib, pushed up the order, would briefly counter in a 16-ball 20 that included four boundaries, but Matheesha Pathirana would trap him lbw first ball.

A 71-run stand between Hashmatullah Shahidi and Rahmat Shah then kept the Afghans in the game, but it was only once Nabi entered the fray that Sri Lanka truly began to fear. No one was safe in this period, not on the field nor in the stands, as Nabi found the gaps with ease. He would strike at 244 against Pathirana, 160 against Rajitha, 366 against Shanaka and 233 against Wellalage. Only against Theekshana did he even slightly struggle, but even so he struck at 128 against him. It would be fitting then that Theekshana would be the one to dismiss him.

Prior to his nearly match-winning hand, Nabi had played his role in keeping Sri Lanka to a sub-300 total in what was another great batting surface in Lahore. His 10 overs went wicketless but for just 35 runs, which meant he was the only bowler to go for less than six an over across both teams. This would prove crucial in keeping the Lankans to a chaseable target of 292. Doing the damage with the ball were Naib and Rashid, who would end on figures of 4 for 60 and 2 for 63 respectively.

In their batting innings, Sri Lanka threatened to put the game beyond Afghanistan’s reach at various points but not all the way. The opening stand of 63 off 62 between Pathum Nissanka and Dimuth Karunaratne looked threatening until Naib struck. He would get two more shortly after to leave Sri Lanka on 86 for 3.

Then once Mendis and Charith Asalanka put on 102 for the fourth wicket, Rashid would strike to break the stand. He would later effect a run out of Mendis – albeit rather fortuitously – after a dropped return catch from Dasun Shanaka would deflect onto the non-striker’s stumps. He would have Shanaka as well, castling the Lankan skipper around his legs to leave Sri Lanka at risk of not completing their 50 overs.

But it was here that Wellalage played the knock that, in hindsight, won Sri Lanka the game. Having entered 227 for 7 in the 40th over, Wellalage would put on a stand of 64 with Theekshana at a touch over run-a-ball to take Sri Lanka to their eventual winning total. He’d make 33 in 39 while Theekshana contributed 28 in 24.

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