Settled Afghanistan look to upset troubled Sri Lanka
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Start time 1930 local (1400 GMT)
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.
(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.
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