Afghanistan v Sri Lanka, World Cup 2015, Group A, Dunedin February 22, 2015

Shenwari disappointed with batting slump

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Shenwari rues middle-overs stumble

There were 86,876 punters who flocked into the colossal MCG to watch two heavyweights slug it out. However, for a few hours at least, the real story of the day was unfolding 2,200 km away in the much more humble surrounding of University Oval in Dunedin were 2711 dotted themselves around the grass banks.

As people made their way into the ground during the morning, small flags of the two teams were being handed out. For those without an association to either side, the Afghanistan flag was by far the most popular.

Those waving them came close to witnessing a piece of history. Sri Lanka were worried. Very worried. Sloppy in the field, their top order was then blown away by the pace trio of Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran and Hamid Hassan - a combination of bowlers who are capable of troubling the best batting line-ups - the latter downgraded to "medium pace" by the ground announcer when the evidence was anything but.

The highlight of the early exchanges was Hamid's removal of Kumar Sangakkara with a wicked inswinger which left the stumps spread-eagled and the bowler celebrating with a cartwheel that would have sent shudders through the Afghanistan physio. "He didn't understand it," Samiullah Shenwari said of Sangakkara's reaction, presumably to the delivery rather than the cartwheel.

At 51 for 4 the force was with Afghanistan, then the game looked to have gone as Mahela Jayawardene and Angelo Mathews added 126, benefiting from a third missed run out. But back they came. A run out engineered by the captain Mohammad Nabi and a third wicket for the energetic Hamid. And that, too, of the man with 100 to his name. With 55 still needed, one more wicket within 20 runs and, goodness, something special was on the cards.

Ultimately, though, it was the middle (and thick edge) of Thisara Perera's bat that won the day, if not the hearts. Their final chance went with the DRS, overturning a caught behind decision against Jeevan Mendis with 14 left to score.

"It's very disappointing," Shenwari said. "We had them four down but then Jayawardene and Mathews, two very experienced players, took the game away from us and we missed three run outs.

"We were looking for dot balls and wanted one more wicket, as we knew there was only Mendis and Perera to come but they played very well. We knew Perera is a big hitter and knew Sri Lanka would be under pressure if we got him out. Unfortunately, it didn't happen."

However, it was not the late onslaught by Thisara, or even the defining stand between Jayawardene and Mathews, that left Afghanistan with their biggest regret. It was the last 20 overs of their innings - following a stand of 88 between Shenwari and Asghar Stanikzai - where just 92 runs were scored including 10 off the five-over Powerplay. But they are not the first to find Lasith Malinga a tough prospect.

"Two-sixty would have been very tough for Sri Lanka," Shenwari said. "We got early wickets and there would have been more pressure on them. Sri Lanka bowled very well and we lost some wickets. We had a good partnership in the middle but we both [him and Stanikzai] got out close together - that's the main reason we didn't make another 30-40 runs."

The margin against Bangladesh, a team they are expected to compete with on closer terms, was much wider. They have narrowed it against a side who, despite having struggled in New Zealand, enjoyed a stellar 2014 and possess two of the greatest ODI batsmen to play the game. They could not get past one of them in time. But it was so close. Another competitive game at this World Cup involving an Associate.

"We need some more matches to get more experience," Shenwari said, "We need ICC to give us more matches against the Test nations."

Is anyone listening, or are they drowned out by the noise from the MCG?

Andrew McGlashan is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo