Champika Fernando reporting from Abu Dhabi
Five-time Asia Cup champions Sri Lanka made an early exit from the regional showpiece following a yet another miserable performance in all three departments against low-ranked Afghanistan here at the Abu Dhabi Cricket ground yesterday.
After the men from the war-torn country set a target of 250 to win, Sri Lanka capitulated under pressure, falling like nine-pins in a must-win game and turning towards home with tails between their legs. It was just three days into the commencement of the Asia Cup. Sri Lanka made just 158 runs losing by 91 runs—end their campaign prematurely.
The defeat—their first against Afghanistan, a team which has shown tremendous improvement despite the turmoil on home soil—came as a rude shock for the islanders who are struggling to find their feet after a series of defeats in 2017.
With the World Cup fast approaching and a heavy international schedule ahead, Sri Lanka now require a great deal of soul-searching to be a competitive outfit in white-ball cricket before the 1996 World Champions become a laughing stock in the world—if they aren't that already.
Sri Lanka had come to the tournament with renewed hopes after winning back-to-back matches against South Africa at home but the players were all at sea against a vastly improved Afghan outfit who put on a spirited effort, first with the bat, then with the ball, recording a historic win. This was Sri Lanka’s worst ever performance in the Asia Cup.
Chasing a formidable score of 250 under lights, Sri Lanka got off to the worst possible start when Kusal Mendis was trapped leg before by off-spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman for a duck, adding to his horrendous form with the bat during the last one year. Of the last 22 innings, Mendis—a highly rated batsman—had made just 267 runs at 13.35. His repeated selection when not in form has come in for heavy criticism.
Upul Tharanga and Dhananjaya de Silva tried to consolidate thereafter, adding 54 runs for the second wicket, before de Silva ran himself out attempting a second run after Tharanga sent one down to the third man area.
Kusal Perera and Tharanga added 32 runs for the third wicket before Rashid Khan bowled Perera when he tried to play across the line, opening a wide gap between the bat and the pad. A terrible mix-up between Angelo Mathews and Shehan Jayasuriya, saw the latter walking back to the dressing room as he was comfortably run-out before Mathews—the last hope along with Thisara Perera—departed, inviting the Afghan bowlers to do the final rites.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman (2/32) , Gulbadin Naib (2/29) and Mohammed Nabi (2/30) were the pick of the bowlers for Afghanistan who made Sri Lanka pay a heavy price for lack of consistency.
Sri Lanka sweated under scorching heat at the Abu Dhabi Cricket Stadium to put the Afghanistan batsmen under some pressure early on but the their oppositions had other plans as they consolidated the innings together with a determined effort.
Lasith Malinga, who returned to the international scene with a bang on Saturday claiming 4-23 against Bangladesh in a losing cause, did not have the same venom in the field last evening with the Afghanistan batsmen collecting as many as 66 runs off his ten overs. Thisara Perera picked up his first five-wicket haul in six years –5 for 55—after Akila Dananjaya did the early damage by trapping openers leg-before but it was far from a convincing effort to put Sri Lanka in the box seat. Out of Thisara’s five wickets, three were off the last over when batsmen were looking for quick runs to score as much as possible.
Poor fielding has become a hallmark of the Sri Lankan team of late and it was once again on display here, although not to the extent it was in Dubai against Bangladesh on Saturday when Dasun Shanaka dropped Afghan’s top scorer, Rahmat Shah at mid-wicket, throwing Malinga to his knees in disappointment.
Mohammad Shahzad lbw Akila Dananjaya 34
Ihsanullah lbw Akila Dananjaya 45
Rahmat Shah c Thisara Perera b Dushmantha Chameera 72
Asghar Afghan lbw Shehan Jayasuriya 1
Hashmatullah Shahidi b Thisara Perera 37
Mohammad Nabi c Thisara Perera b Lasith Malinga 15
Najibullah Zadran b Thisara Perera 12
Gulbadin Naib c Akila Dananjaya b Thisara Perera 4
Rashid Khan b Thisara Perera 13
Aftab Alam Not Out 7
Mujeeb Ur Rahman b Thisara Perera 0
Extras 0b 2lb 0nb 0pen 7w 9
Total (50.0 overs) 249 all out
Fall of Wickets: 1-57 Mohammadi, 2-107 Janat, 3-110 Afghan, 4-190 Zurmatai, 5-203 Shahidi, 6-222 Nabi, 7-227 Zadran, 8-242 Naib, 9-249 Khan, 10-249 Ur Rahman
Bowling Ov Md Rn Wk
Lasith Malinga 10 0 66 1
Dushmantha Chameera 10 2 43 1
Thisara Perera 9 0 55 5
Akila Dananjaya 10 0 39 2
Dhananjaya de Silva 5 0 22 0
Shehan Jayasuriya 6 0 22 1
Kusal Mendis lbw Mujeeb Ur Rahman 0
Upul Tharanga c Asghar Afghan b Gulbadin Naib 36
Dhananjaya de Silva Run Out (Sub) 23
Kusal Perera b Rashid Khan 17
Angelo Mathews c Rashid Khan b Mohammad Nabi 22
Shehan Jayasuriya Run Out Rashid Khan 14
Thisara Perera b Gulbadin Naib 28
Dasun Shanaka b Mujeeb Ur Rahman 0
Akila Dananjaya b Mohammad Nabi 2
Lasith Malinga lbw Rashid Khan 1
Dushmantha Chameera Not Out 2
Extras 2b 5lb 0nb 0pen 6w 13
Total (41.2 overs) 158 all out
Fall of Wickets: 1-0 Mendis, 2-54 de Silva, 3-86 Perera, 4-88 Tharanga, 5-108 Jayasuriya, 6-143 Mathews, 7-144 Shanaka, 8-153 Perera, 9-156 Perera, 10-158 Malinga
Bowling Ov Md Rn Wk
Mujeeb Ur Rahman 9 1 32 2
Aftab Alam 7 0 34 0
Gulbadin Naib 8 0 29 2
Mohammad Nabi 10 1 30 2
Rashid Khan 7.2 0 26 2