Ankur Dhawan, in ESPNcricnfo, 3 June 2019, where the title is “Can improving Afghanistan exploit Sri Lanka’s vulnerabilities?”
Bookmakers are offering near-equal odds on the Sri Lanka-Afghanistan contest in Cardiff, and although there was no way of calling this four years ago, when Sri Lanka were contenders until being blown away by South Africa in Sydney, things are a little different now, especially after their walloping at New Zealand’s hands last week. And don’t forget what happened last year, when Afghanistan knocked Sri Lanka out of the Asia Cup.
And if you stopped watching cricket after the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene and have just tuned back in, here’s another staggering statistic: Afghanistan have won more ODIs than Sri Lanka since the last World Cup, despite having played 22 fewer games.
While Dimuth Karunaratne, the Sri Lanka captain, is realistic about his side’s chances in the tournament, he is hopeful they can put on a better show than they did against New Zealand. They’ll have to script a quick turnaround at a venue where they have never won a cricket match, in six attempts, and on the same pitch on which they were decimated by New Zealand.
For all the progress Afghanistan have made, they haven’t really been tested against top sides that often, and a clearer idea of their standing in ODIs will emerge only at the end of this tournament. In their only match so far, they went for broke, perhaps hoping to catch Australia by surprise and get lucky, an approach likelier to succeed in T20s. Over 50 overs, they need their batsmen to exercise a little more caution, though without going into a shell, and give their bowling attack a better opportunity to showcase their skills.
Sri Lanka LWLLL (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Rahmat Shah is Afghanistan’s leading run-scorer since the start of 2015, and at No. 3 he provides an old-school solidity. In 26 of his 52 innings during this period, he has had to come in inside the first five overs, which isn’t surprising given the gung-ho approach of some of their openers. But as often as he has been able to hold the innings together after the fall of an early wicket, he has been equally guilty of squandering starts, with 47% of his dismissals coming between the scores of 10 and 49. Afghanistan need him to become more consistent and add to his four hundreds and 14 fifties.
Should Angelo Mathews have been the captain of this Sri Lanka side? Should he be batting higher up the order? He certainly needs to be getting his runs at a faster clip. For all middle-order batsmen (Nos. 4 to 7) who have played a minimum of 30 innings since 2016, Mathews has the third worst strike-ratebehind Ireland’s Gary Wilson and Afghanistan’s Asghar Afghan.
Lasith Malinga has said he is fully fit and Nuwan Pradeep, who was surprisingly left out against New Zealand, bowled quite a bit in the nets on the eve of the match. Sri Lanka might consider bringing in Pradeep for Isuru Udana, whose style of bowling is more suited to drier surfaces than the one expected in Cardiff, particularly with rain around.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), 2 Lahiru Thirimanne, 3 Kusal Perera (wk), 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Jeevan Mendis, 9 Isuru Udana/Nuwan Pradeep, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lasith Malinga
Gulbadin Naib defended Mohammad Shahzad despite a duck in the tournament opener, so he should keep his place. But given the conditions at the venue, Afghanistan could consider playing an extra seamer in Aftab Alam instead of Mujeeb ur Rahman, who was taken apart by Australia. Asghar Afghan missed the Australia game with a calf strain, and it is unclear if he is fit to play.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Hazratullah Zazai, 3 Rahmat Shah, 4 Hashmatullah Shahidi, 5 Najibullah Zadran, 6 Mohammad Nabi, 7 Gulbadin Naib (capt), 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Mujeeb-ur-Rahman/Aftab Alam , 10 Hamid Hassan, 11 Dawlat Zadran
Pitch and conditions
Cardiff has been a good chasing ground over the years with teams batting second winning 15 of the 22 completed ODIs here. The average first-innings winning score here is 322 for 8, exemplifying the difficulty in setting totals. There’s a possibility of thunderstorms on Tuesday, which should make it even easier for captains to decide whether to bat or bowl if the statistics alone weren’t enough.
- Kusal Mendis has shown a vulnerability against right-arm pace and legspin: 43 of his 54 ODI dismissals have come against those two types of bowling. He also struggles to get past the Powerplay, failing to do so 19 of the 41 times he has batted during that phase. Afghanistan should ideally target him with Hamid Hassan and Rashid Khan in tandem.
- Since 2015, Thisara Perara has fallen 9 out of 21 times to right-arm legspin and his strike-rate against right-arm offspin is just under 65. That suggests that Afghanistan would benefit by attacking Sri Lanka’s big-hitting allrounder with the combination of Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi.
Stats and trivia
- From 2010 to 2015, Lasith Malinga’s economy rate in the death overs was an exceptional 6.3, but since returning to the side in 2017, it’s risen to 8.3.
- Sri Lanka have lost all their internationals in Cardiff, five ODIs and one Test.
“Players need to get confidence, we need to get mentally tough – at this point you can’t change skill. We have to play with a free mind and do our best in tomorrow’s game.” …… Lasith Malinga on what Sri Lanka need to do to script a quick turnaround
“Sri Lanka have been struggling in one-day matches in the last one or two years, we have [an] opportunity to do well against them. If we played 50 overs in batting maybe we will beat them but they are also a good team, Sri Lanka, [so] we cannot take [it] easy. Especially for the batters, if we play 50 overs, it could be difficult for them.” ………….Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib on what it will take for his side to topple Sri Lanka