Afghanistan v Sri Lanka World T20 preview - Match 16
Asghar Stanikzai sounds warning, says, “we have a good chance” of beating the defending champion
16 March 2016 21:19
Sri Lanka’s title defence is set to begin against Afghanistan at Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Thursday (March 17). Afghanistan swatted aside Zimbabwe to sound a warning cry to the full-member sides, and is thought to have a good chance off toppling Sri Lanka.
Since the close-run win against United Arab Emirates, achieved thanks to Lasith Malinga, who has since been trying to fix his knee, Sri Lanka hasn’t tasted victory. More than the losses, it’s the manner in which it has succumbed that is worrying. Even in the two warm-up matches, against New Zealand and Pakistan, Sri Lanka struggled to get a look-in.
But Angelo Mathews, its captain, preferred to take the glass-half-full approach. “Coming in as the underdogs really releases the pressure out of the players,” he said the day before the match. “We haven’t done well in the recent past, especially in the Asia Cup. But we’ve got better, day by day. Even in the last couple of practice games, we were getting better each time. I’m very confident about my team’s progress.”
There is reason for optimism, even in such difficult times. Sri Lanka has a great record in ICC tournaments and despite the unpredictability that is the calling card of T20 cricket, Sri Lanka has made the knockout stages in all the editions barring the inaugural one in 2007, finishing as runner-up in 2009 and 2012, before the famous win in 2014.
That’s a great record, and Afghanistan, for all its upswing in form and fortune, needs to be wary. Lahiru Thirimanne has been in good nick recently, scoring a 29-ball 41 and a 37-ball 45 at No. 3 in the warm-ups. Dinesh Chandimal scored two half-centuries at the Asia Cup and chipped in with a 30 against Pakistan in the warm-up game. The batting will revolve around how the two perform.
“They are two very good players,” said Mathews. “They read the game and the situations very well. And Chandimal, we saw in the last game and throughout the Asia Cup, batted really well. Thirimanne has batted the best out of the lot. Those two are very talented players. We bank on them and trust them. As seniors, they will take up the challenge. They will deliver.”
Malinga looks set to miss out again, though, with Mathews revealing he “bowled a couple of overs today with his short run-up; he is yet to bowl with is full run-up”. He did, though, reveal that a call on Malinga’s participation would be taken on the morning of the match.
Even in Malinga’s absence, if Nuwan Kulasekara, one of Sri Lanka’s better bowlers in the Asia Cup, and Mathews himself can keep things tight, the slow conditions may help Rangana Herath do some damage.
“We don’t want to look too far ahead,” said Mathews. “We just want to take it one game at a time. We know we haven’t done too well in the past. We just want that one win to get our momentum back. We’re really only concentrating on tomorrow’s game.”
For Afghanistan, the key is to not get frazzled by the big stage. With the experienced duo of Inzamam-ul-Haq and Manoj Prabhakar in the support staff, there is a maturity in the way Afghanistan has gone about its cricket so far in the tournament.
There have been no sudden collapses from good positions – it’s a characteristic Afghanistan has recently ditched, and it is key for the team to ensure it remains composed even in the Super 10 stage.
On the eve of the match, Asghar Stanikzai , the captain, said, “We are looking forward to beating some big teams. We were close to beating Sri Lanka in the 2015 (50-over) World Cup. But they had good, experienced batsmen in (Kumar) Sangakkara and (Mahela) Jayawardene, who played outstanding to beat us. This time, they do not have those names, and most of their players are out of form. We have a good chance to beat them this time.”
As is evident from Stanikzai’s words, Afghanistan is pumped up. And Sri Lanka knows it. “Afghanistan, you can’t really call them minnows,” said Mathews. “They have beaten all the teams in the qualifying stages very easily, and we take them very seriously. Any given day, they can upset any team. So we have to play really good cricket to beat Afghanistan.”
Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (capt), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Noor Ali Zadran, Usman Ghani, Mohammad Nabi, Karim Sadiq, Shafiqullah Shafiq, Rashid Khan, Ameer Hamza, Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Samiullah Shenwari, Najibullah Zadran, Hamid Hassan.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Shehan Jayasuriya, Sachithra Senanayake, Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Milinda Siriwardana, Chamara Kapugedara, Thisara Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Rangana Herath, Nuwan Kulasekara, Dushmantha Chameera, Dasun Shanaka, Jeffrey Vandersay, Lasith Malinga.
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