Sri Lanka’s players shake hand with Afghanistan players at the end of their Asia Cup match in Sharjah on Saturday.
Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
Bhanuka Rajapaksa smacked a whirlwind 14-ball 31 as a resolute Sri Lanka avenged their loss by beating Afghanistan by four wickets in their Asia Cup match in Sharjah on Saturday.
In their first match, Afghanistan had mauled Lanka by eight wickets after bundling them out for a paltry 105. This time around, it was a different-looking Lanka team, who were determined to take revenge of their loss.
Riding on a collective bowling effort of their bowlers, Lanka restricted Afghanistan to 175/6. In reply, they got off to a flying start as the openers Pathum Nissanka and Kusal Mendis added 62 runs for the first wicket in six overs to lay down a solid foundation and set the tone for a successful chase.
Afghanistan did make some in-roads through their bowlers to thwart Lanka but failed to contained the Lions. Mendis, who smashed a half-century against Hong Kong, led from the front as he scored 19-ball 36. Mujeeb Ur Rahman, the architect of Afghanistan’s victory against Bangladesh, gave them the first breakthrough by getting rid of Mendis.
Two overs later, Naissanka also holed out to Gurbaz off Rahman. Lanka kept on losing the wickets but their batsmen did not slow down as they kept the chase alive.
With neither of teams ready to give up, the match kept on swinging on either way like a see-saw. At the end of 15th over, Lanka were 127/4, still needing 45 runs off the last five overs with five wickets in hands.
Rajapaksa came on the crease and he took 18 runs off the 16th over bowled by Naveen-ul-Haq and tilted the game in Lanka’s favour. He hit two consecutive boundaries, followed by a six, two singles and a couple to cap the decisive over.
After that Lankan batsmen kept on plundering the Afghan bowlers and went over the line with five balls remaining.
Earlier, Rahmanullah Gurbaz smashed a quick-fire fifty and shared a 46-run stand with Hazratullah Zazai for the first wicket as Afghanistan batsmen decimated a hapless Lanka bowling attack.
Both Zazai and Gurbaz looked in majestic touch as they threw away everything towards the boundary line which came on their way. Gurbaz was more destructive of the two.
Gurbaz got a reprieve when on 14. He lofted Theekshana for a six but a running Gunathilaka took a splendid catch on the ropes only to realize that he had stepped on the boundary line as six more runs were added to Gurbaz’s score.
Gurbaz capitalized on the chance and there was no looking back. He went on post the highest individual score of the tournament so far in this edition.
With the lady luck smiling on him, he took chances against the three-pronged pace attack of Lanka and toyed with their bowling. Lanka played with three pacers on a pitch which helps the spinner. Only in the previous match, Pakistan spinners had wreaked a havoc, picking up seven wickets with in a span of five overs as Hong Kong were bundled out for their lowest total.
What prompted Lanka to play with three pacers and one spinner flummoxed everybody. But perhaps that was the best available option for them.
Dilshan Madhushanaka gave Lanka the first breakthrough as he rattled the stumps of Zazai. But Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran added 95 runs for the second and dominated the Lanka bowlers completely.
Ibrahim maintained a low profile and kept the scoreboard ticking with single and doubles, hitting occasional boundaries. Gurbaz carried on the good work from the other end as he hit six sixes and four boundaries.
Gurbaz looked set to score the first century of the tournament and Afghanistan to breach the 200-run mark as they were 139 in 15 overs with nine wickets in hands.
But Lankan bowlers pulled the things back miraculously. Asitha Fernando got rid of Gurbaz by getting him caught by De Silva to stop the flow of the runs and bringing some respite to the Lanka camp.
The dismissal of Gurbaz opened the floodgates for Lanka as Afghanistan kept on losing the wickets at regular intervals. In the span of 24 runs they lost four wickets.
Ibrahim Zadran was caught by Fernando off Madhushnaka, Najibullah Zadran was found short of crease while taking a run, Mohammad Nabi was caught by Theekshana off his bowling and Rashid Khan also fell prey to a direct throw.