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21 February 201511:25

Sri Lanka v Afghanistan Preview, Match 12 at Dunedin

Angelo Mathews promises to field full-strength XI, says his team would have to fight all the way to win

Sri Lanka v Afghanistan Preview, Match 12 at Dunedin - Cricket News

Angelo Mathews said he would be fielding his strongest side to avoid the possibility of another upset.

It’s often forgotten that, around four decades ago, Sri Lanka was exactly where Afghanistan is today.

Sri Lanka began its journey as Associates and waded through rough waters before winning the 1996 World Cup and establishing itself as one of the premier One-Day International sides. It’s likely to be a while before Afghanistan achieves what Sri Lanka has, but when the two sides meet in Dunedin on Sunday (February 22), Afghanistan will be eager to take some notes and maybe even throw in a punch or two to highlight its intent and ability.

The likelihood of Afghanistan pulling the rug from under Sri Lanka’s feet is dependent on which Sri Lankan side comes out at University Oval. Should Afghanistan face the side still sapped from the 98-run loss to New Zealand in the World Cup opener a week ago, it stands a good chance. But if Sri Lanka bring its A game to the table to make up for the loss and set itself up for a spot in the knockouts from Pool A, Afghanistan is going to have a tough task on its hands.

It’s likely that the biggest factor will be Lasith Malinga. The paceman, returning from a six-month layoff due to injury, was a far cry from his devastating self against New Zealand, where he conceded 84 runs from ten overs with no wickets against his name.

Malinga must be aching to terrorise batsmen once again and a tie against the Afghans is perhaps his best chance to get back in his groove should the Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews keep him in the playing XI. “We believe he’ll come back strongly in the next few matches,” said Lahiru Thirimanne on Saturday.

While Malinga’s form is a concern, Sri Lanka has a lot on its mind with respect to its batting. Chasing a daunting 331, Sri Lanka was in control with Thirimanne handling the wheel, but in losing nine wickets for a mere 109 more runs, it showed that it can be vulnerable against disciplined bowling.

As evidenced in its tie against Bangladesh – its debut at the ICC Cricket World Cup – Afghanistan can be clinical with the ball. While its batting faltered in that 105-run loss, Afghanistan’s bowling, led by Shapoor Zadran, showed a lot of grit and control despite lacking threatening pace.

“Sri Lanka will be a step up, but I think my biggest message is you haven’t seen Afghanistan play yet,” said Andy Moles, the Afghanistan coach. “The issue with associate cricket is at times its inconsistency. When we’re good, we’re very good. Hopefully, come Sri Lanka, they’ll do better. It’s like a teacher with children; we have to educate them every day to get better, and you have good days and you have bad days.”

The ICC Cricket World Cup has already witnessed a big result in Pool B with Ireland toppling West Indies.

Mathews, well aware of the repercussions should Sri Lanka crash out in the league stage, said he would be fielding his strongest side to avoid the possibility of another upset. “They’re a very dangerous team. You can’t take them lightly because they can upset a team, and they’ve got nothing to lose," said Mathews.

“We can’t just run through them. We've got to fight really hard from ball one to ball 300 probably, and fight it out and just take it as a Test-playing nation.”

Teams (from)
Afghanistan: Javed Ahmadi, Afsar Zazai (wk), Nawroz Mangal, Asghar Stanikzai, Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Nabi (capt), Najibullah Zadran, Mirwais Ashraf, Aftab Alam, Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran, Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Nasir Jamal, Usman Ghani.

Sri Lanka: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardena, Dimuth Karunaratne, Angelo Mathews (capt), Jeevan Mendis, Rangana Herath, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera, Dinesh Chandimal, Nuwan Kulasekara, Thisara Perera, Sachithra Senanayake.