Lasith Malinga walked off a relieved man. These are, after all, not the best of days for his side. Having made his disappointment pretty clear, in a press conference, and on the field, he saw Sri Lanka bounce back to secure a 34-run win by DLS method over Afghanistan in Cardiff on Tuesday (June 4). Sri Lanka's bowlers saved the batsmen major blushes after they posted just 201. Rain intervened and reduced the clash to 41-overs-per-side, giving Afghanistan a revised target of 187 out of which they could only manage 152.
Sri Lanka, at one stage, lost 4 for 6 as Kusal Perera, the highest scorer in the game, saw the middle-order get wiped out by Mohammad Nabi. It all started with the tentativeness of Lahiru Thirimanne as Sri Lanka, horribly short on confidence, found a way to shoot themselves in the foot after putting it on Afghanistan's throat. Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews were both caught at first slip as Nabi's 22nd over read - dot, Wicket, 2, Wicket, dot, Wicket.
Sri Lanka had raced off the blocks after being asked to bat, managing 52 for no loss after five overs and then 79 after the powerplay with the openers going strong. Although Dimuth Karunaratne fell with the score on 92 in 13.1 overs, Perera continued with his assault to help Sri Lanka make steady progress and put Afghanistan under pressure. While the opening pacers were poor, Rashid Khan too found it hard to make an impact with no pressure on the batsmen.
But the fortunes turned quickly in favour of Afghanistan thanks to Nabi's inspired spell while more recklessness followed for Sri Lanka as Dhananjaya de Silva bagged a duck, Thisara Perera fell after scoring two while Isuru Udana also gifted his wicket away. Meanwhile, Afghanistan bowlers were inconsistent with their lines as well, conceding 35 extras - which included 22 wides and three no-balls - as Sri Lanka huffed and puffed their way past 200.
During the chase, Sri Lanka's bowlers found swing early on but weren't able to make optimum use of it. Hazratullah Zazai consistently plonked his right foot out of the way and swung across the line to give the team a fast start. But Mohammad Shahzad made a timid start and fell to Malinga after a 34-run opening stand.
And that's when Karunaratne's side made an exceptional comeback as Afghanistan lost their top five with just 57 on the board. While Malinga started the slide, Pradeep and Thisara dealt the knockout blows.
Pradeep dismissed Zazai and then nipped out Hashmatullah Shahidi. Zazai's wicket was also a moment of redemption for Thisara at a venue where his mistake cost his side a place in the 2017 Champions Trophy semifinal.
This time though he plucked a tough chance at deep fine-leg to give his side the much-needed boost. Nabi chopped one back off Thisara as Afghanistan nosedived further. If Sri Lanka lost their wickets to recklessness, Afghanistan's inability to bat on testing tracks was pretty apparent.
Gulbadin Naib and Najibullah Zadran scored 64 for the sixth wicket to revive the hopes but Pradeep struck again to produce his career-best. In consecutive overs he dismissed Naib and Rashid to put Sri Lanka back on top. Dawlat Zadran batted valiantly with a hamstring issue but Malinga too produced some magic, producing the perfect yorker to get rid of Dawlat. Najibullah tried to keep the team in the hunt with some big hits but an ill-timed mistake sealed Afghanistan's fate.
Brief scores: Sri Lanka 201 in 36.5 overs (Kusal Perera 78; Mohammad Nabi 4-30) beat Afghanistan 152 in 32.4 overs (Najibullah Zadran 43; Nuwan Pradeep 4-31) by 34 runs (DLS method).