(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – Sri Lanka cricket reached its nadir in the one-day format when they bowed out of the Asia Cup with a 91-run defeat against Afghanistan at the Sheikh.Zayed Cricket Stadium here on Monday.
The former Asia Cup champions were nowhere close to the teams that had won this tournament on five previous occasions and their performance against Bangladesh on Saturday and against Afghanistan yesterday left several question marks on the composition of the side ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
It was a test of batting skills against spin on a slow surface against Afghanistan’s three-prong spin attack the Lankan batters failed miserably to chase down a target of 250 being dismissed for 158 in 41.2 overs.
The Lankans should have taken a leave out of the Afghans book and paced out their innings nicely, but the batsmen who came to the middle had no such plan. Although Upul Tharanga hung around playing the sheet anchor role for 21 overs to score 36 runs everything fell apart following his dismissal after he hit a tame catch to mid-off.
Sri Lanka got off to a poor start when out of form Kusal Mendis was trapped lbw for a duck off the second ball. Tharanga and Dhananjaya de Silva (23) added 54 for the second wicket to offset Mendis’ early dismissal. The partnership ended with De Silva being run out.
Kusal Perera (17) and Tharanga departed within two runs of each other as Sri Lanka slid to 88-4 and just as when Mathews and Shehan Jayasuriya set about rebuilding the innings the Lankan skipper for the second time in the tournament ran out his partner with a poor call. Jayasuriya was the victim yesterday departing for 14. (Shanaka suffered the same fate in the game against Bangladesh). The manner in which Mathews runs between the wickets raises the question whether he is fit enough to be in the side. He is already not bowling and is concentrating only on his batting and that alone tells you a story that he is not 100 percent fit.
With half the side gone for 108 and the asking rate climbing steadily to over seven an over the Lankans felt the heat on them to survive in the tournament and they buckled under the pressure that was building up.
Once again it was clear as day that they were playing a batsman short. In the past Sri Lanka had been a successful one day side going with a 7-4 combination. By reducing the batting to just six specialists and giving the seventh place to an allrounder is certainly not serving the purpose. The selection committee that includes the head coach is answerable for this haphazard selection that is having a detrimental effect on the entire team and the nation overall. This is the second time in Asia Cup history that Sri Lanka has failed to progress to the final, the last occasion being in 2012.
Afghanistan’s batting revolved around the top three in their line-up Mohammad Shazad (34), Ihshanullah (45) and Rahath Shah who top scored with a well-paced out innings of 72 off 90 balls (5 fours).
Three half-century stands carried them to a total that gave their bowlers with a chance to defend.
Now a full member of the ICC Afghanistan showed their maturity in turning the strike over during the middle overs something they have been guilty of failing to do in the past. The manner in which Afghanistan set about compiling their total showed that they were not going to be rattled by the big names any longer and that they were up in the big league with the others.
An opening partnership of 57 laid a solid platform for their final score although they may have been disappointed not to get more than 249 when they lost three wickets in the final over.
Credit to the Lankan bowlers for not allowing Afghanistan to run away with a big total. They were tight in their bowling lengths and kept the runs down but the worrying factor was they struggled to get wickets on a flat surface which does not augur well at all for the World Cup where the tracks are bound to be similar in England.
Thisara Perera picked up his fifth five-for and his first since 2012 when he took the last three Afghanistan wickets in the final over of the innings to dismiss them under 250, still a competitive total on the slow surface.
The Lankan fielding left much to be desired was sharp but then again they were haunted by drop catches the most notable of them being Dasun Shanaka spilling Rahmath at 56 off the luckless Malinga.