Mahela Jayawardene's century bailed Sri Lanka out of trouble and helped them beat a resolute Afghanistan by four wickets in their World Cup 2015 Pool A encounter in Dunedin on Sunday.
Sri Lanka's captain Angelo Mathews won the toss and put his opponents in to bat first on a surface that favoured the batsmen. Afghanistan's openers Javed Ahmadi and Nawroz Mangal made it difficult for Sri Lanka's new-ball attack to draw first blood. The duo kept their wicket intact till the ninth over when both departed two-overs apart.
Sri Lanka's bowlers, buoyed by the double strike, looked to add more wickets to their tally, but an inform Asghar Stanikzai and Samiullah Shenwari refused to give in.
The duo began to rebuild cautiously and looked to rotate the strike as much as possible. They stubbornly added 88 runs for the third wicket and at 128 for 2 in the 28th over, a total of 250-plus was certainly within reach.
But after Stanikzai's run-a-ball half-century ended, no one was able to take up the mantle and the last eight wickets fell for 104. Afghanistan managed just 232 in their innings.
Sri Lanka got off to a disastrous start and lost openers, Lahiru Thirimanne and Tillakaratne Dilshan, for zero, in the first two overs. They then lost their talisman, Kumara Sangakkara for just seven runs, four-overs later.
An impressive display from Afghanistan's bowlers reduced Sri Lanka to 51 for 4 at one stage. It was then that Jayawardene came to the fore. He combined forces with Mathews to rebuild the innings after the collapse.
Jayawardene's fifty came just after the mid-point of the chase and it was from there that life became a little more comfortable for Sri Lanka - at least for a time.
Jayawardene took advantage of some loose deliveries from legspinner Samiullah Shenwari, but it was largely due to deft placement by him and Mathews that ensured the required rate was kept under six until the pair were parted.
Jayawardene hit eight fours and one six in his match-winning knock. His fifth-wicket stand with the captain yielded 126 runs and it helped bail their side out of trouble.
When the duo fell, an over-apart, Sri Lanka stood at 178 for six in 41.2 overs. A 26-ball 47 from allrounder Thisara Perera took Sri Lanka home with ten balls to spare.
"All credit to Afghanistan. Thought they batted really well in tough conditions, then followed it up beautifully with the ball," Jayawardene said. "So feeling really relieved in the end to get over the line. They have the pace, the movement, and they are a handful. Not a big gap between the top countries and these guys. The wicket was looking a bit difficult, but when I joined Mathews it was important to try and hang in there and finish off the game. I thought Thisara played really well to finish it off for us. It was a bit of wait after the first game, but we do have two quick games coming up, so we are looking to get prepared for those."