The stadium at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff is not too dissimilar to the University Oval in Dunedin. Both grounds are surrounded by a perimeter of thick trees, the dense foliage creating a very pleasant setting for cricket. It was in Dunedin four years ago where Afghanistan made things rather unpleasant for the 1996 champions. But that was still a very raw Afghanistan side and a pre-perpetual-transition Sri Lanka, who could simply dial M for Mahela and save their day.
If Afghanistan were to finish the unfinished business tomorrow, Dimuth Karunaratne & Co. will be upset, yes, but the result will hardly be termed so. ODIs are, without a doubt, Sri Lanka’s worst format. In the last 12 months, they’ve won only four of their 22 games, three of them dead rubbers and an other against Scotland two weeks ago.
The 10-wicket thrashing by New Zealand on Saturday emphatically exposed Sri Lanka’s long-standing batting inadequacies. In an interview with Cricbuzz, batting coach Jon Lewis revealed the simple mantra he has laid out for his wards. “At least one batsman must try and bat a 100 balls in an innings.” It may seem like a fair request till you scroll down the stats page and see just one instance of a Sri Lankan batsman – Angelo Mathews in August 2018 – having done so since the start of 2018.
What makes the contest exciting is that Afghanistan’s own top-order is prone to spontaneously evaporate. Many in their ranks have publicly proclaimed their admiration for Shahid Afridi and proceeded to bat like a team of eleven Afridis. Perhaps, against defending champions Australia, they were unburdened by expectation and could throw caution to the winds. But against Sri Lanka, they will start on an even keel and be saddled with an opportunity to score a big point. Will they overcompensate in the face of this subtle shift of the power balance?
When: Afghanistan vs Sri Lanka, CWC19, June 4, 10:30 Local, 15:00 IST
Where: Sophia Gardens, Cardiff
What to expect: More rain is expected in Cardiff, where precipitation has not been in short supply over the last week. Afghanistan aren’t complaining for they believe a shortened game puts them in control. One day out from the game, the pitch still retains the green tinge that spooked Sri Lanka out for 136 in their opener. What should buoy Sri Lanka, however, is that such a surface could also slightly negate Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman – Afghanistan’s two biggest bowling threats.
Hamid Hassan appeared to be struggling with a sore back and was attended to by the team physio for a good portion of the training session on match eve, although captain Gulbadin Naib allayed fears of any serious injury. Later, Hamid was also hit on the right arm after a stray ball ricocheted off the net. Although the support staff weren’t overly concerned, the bowler called time on his bowling session. Aftab Alam got an extended bowl in the nets and was readied to fill in in case of an injury to Hamid or if Afghanistan feel the need for an extra fast bowler.
Probable XI: 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/Aftab Alam
Sri Lanka’s 11 from the loss to New Zealand could be given another chance unless they feel they’ll be better suited with the more dynamic opener like Avishka Fernando in a rain-curtailed encounter.
Probable XI: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Perera (wk), Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Angelo Matthews, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Isuru Udana, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga
Did you know?
– Sri Lanka have a 2-1 lead in ODIs against Afghanistan. However, last year, they lost a game to Afghanistan and were knocked out of the Asia Cup
– Rahmat Shah has averaged 36+ in each of the last four calendar years and has scored a hundred in each year. He won the Man of the Match for his 72 in the win against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup
– Sri Lanka are winless from five ODIs in Cardiff
What they said:
“The Sri Lankan team in the last two years is struggling in the One-Day format. If we play 50 overs in the batting, we can definitely beat them” – Gulbadin Naib senses a big opportunity in Tuesday’s encounter.
“The top-seven batsmen have to take the responsibility. The players have to get confident but we cannot improve the skills at the moment. The pressure is with us but we have to try and play with a free mind” – Lasith Malinga, on what Sri Lanka need to do to get out of the rut.
Afghanistan (From): Mohammad Shahzad(w), Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib(c), Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Hamid Hassan, Aftab Alam, Samiullah Shinwari, Asghar Afghan, Noor Ali Zadran
Sri Lanka (From): Lahiru Thirimanne, Dimuth Karunaratne(c), Kusal Perera(w), Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Isuru Udana, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Avishka Fernando, Jeffrey Vandersay, Nuwan Pradeep, Milinda Siriwardana