Nikhil Kalro, courtesy of ESPNcricinfo, where the title is “Settled Afghanistan look to upset troubled Sri Lanka“
Big picture:Currently, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka find themselves on either side of a seesaw; one looks skyward, while the other has won only three of their last 16 completed international games. Yet, such has been Sri Lanka’s prowess in global events that the contest is still tipped in their favour.
Afghanistan came through the first round of the World T20 unscathed, overpowering their closest competitors Zimbabwe with an ease that caught the attention of the rest of Group 1. More impressively, Afghanistan have adapted, ditching their gung-ho approach for a calculated assault in conditions that will only increase their potency. The bowling has been solid, and captain Asghar Stanikzai has used his available resources astutely. Mohammad Nabi, the best of their host of spinning allrounders, has stood out with both bat and ball.
Another fascinating aspect in the qualifier was Afghanistan’s attitude on the field. Their discernibly animated reactions and yelps of frustration to a fumble, more often than not, added to the pressure rather than being a motivating factor for the fielders. Afghanistan came close to beating Sri Lanka in the 2015 World Cup, and they may never find the opposition more vulnerable.
Sri Lanka seem to have, unfortunately for the tournament, carried their Asia Cup form into the World T20 warm-up games. Their last win was against UAE, a closely-fought match in the Asia Cup, but where is the next one coming from?
Sri Lanka’s win drought recently is directly proportional to the form of their best players. Post the retirement of Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara, now a selector after a major revamp, many tipped the likes of Angelo Mathews, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Lasith Malinga to carry the torch till the next generation of young blood came through. Neither have the youngsters shone through consistently nor has that torch been supported.
However, underestimate a Sri Lanka side at an ICC competition at your own peril. They might just be spurred by the reminder of home by Kolkata’s spin-friendly nature.
Form guide: (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: LLLWL
Watch out for
Sri Lanka’s opening pair of Dinesh Chandimal and Tillakaratne Dilshan have enough experience between them to understand the value of the Powerplay in slow, low conditions.
Mohammad Shahzad‘s passion has been visible on and off the field, clapping and counselling his team-mates through the end overs. However, his primary role is with the bat, and he has found a blend between aggression and caution, with ones and twos becoming an increasingly vital part of his game.
Team news: Despite a fluid batting and bowling order, Afghanistan’s XI is settled. With the pitch expected to play on the slower side, Afghanistan may opt for an extra spinner in place of Hamid Hassan.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Noor Ali Zadran, 3 Asghar Stanikzai (capt), 4 Mohammad Nabi, 5 Gulbadin Naib, 6 Shafiqullah, 7 Samiullah Shenwari, 8 Najibullah Zadran, 9 Dawlat Zadran, 10 Rashid Khan, 11 Hamid Hassan/Amir Hamza
Lahiru Thirmanne made a 29-ball 41 and a 37-ball 45 at No. 3 in the warm-ups against New Zealand and Pakistan and is likely to keep his place. Malinga is still doubtful for this clash, and could be excluded as a preventive measure unless he has completely recovered from his “bone bruise”.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Lahiru Thirimanne, 4 Milinda Siriwardana, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt), 6 Chamara Kapugedera, 7 Thisara Perera/Dasun Shanaka, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Sachithra Senanayake, 11 Dushmantha Chameera
Pitch and conditions: With the weather set to be fair, the captains and think-tank are likely to look down more than up. The pitch is likely to take plenty of turn, but provide even bounce. With sluggish conditions expected, the captains would look to bat on winning the toss.
Stats and trivia
- Sri Lanka have won just two of their last 10 T20Is, while Afghanistan have won nine of their last 10.
- These two teams have never met each other in a T20I.
- Among the current squads, only Mohammad Shahzad (1287) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (1751) have more than 1000 T20I runs
Nikhil Kalro is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
Sri Lanka have always done well in multi-nation tournaments, but this time they are unlikely to defend their World T20 title since the players who helped them become a great team have now retired. That’s what happens when transition occurs by default and not design. Sri Lanka struggled in the Asia Cup and are expected to struggle in the World T20.
Strength: While there aren’t too many factors in Sri Lanka’s favour, they may be helped by the fact that they are the only subcontinental team in their group. Their knowledge of playing in these conditions, along with decent bowling options at the start and end of innings, should help them. Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara are likely to keep things tight, and then there’s Dushmantha Chameera for the death overs. Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end.
Weakness: Their biggest problem in the batting order is having an ageing opener in Tillakaratne Dilshan, who revolutionised T20 batting with his Dilscoop and ultra-aggressive style of play from the first ball. But of late, he has been struggling. His bat face is closed at the top of his backlift, so it comes down at an angle and forces him to play across the line, making him susceptible to balls that dart back in sharply. And while earlier he would punish anything pitched slightly wide, now bowlers can get away by bowling an outside-off line to him.
Their bowling also has no teeth in the middle overs.
X-factor: Two types of bowlers succeed in T20: ones who can produce wicket-taking deliveries, and ones who can bowl four really tight overs most days.
While Chameera can be expensive, he has the pace to induce mistakes and take wickets. In addition to the speed, he has also shown phenomenal game awareness in his choice of deliveries. He has added to his repertoire the legcutter variation of the slower delivery that not only goes away from the right-hand batsman but also bounces more than expected. Since most batsmen target the midwicket region in the death overs, he maintains a slightly outside-off line for his slower deliveries, and the spin takes the ball further away. But the ability to bowl different variations is futile unless you know when to bowl them, and Chameera has shown maturity in using his variations. Batsmen playing him for the first time will struggle to line him up. Unfortunately, Chameera’s emergence has coincided with a dip in Malinga’s career. Both of them bowling in tandem at their peak would have made things a lot tougher for batsmen.