Did Sri Lanka miss Lasith Malinga? The result doesn’t suggest so. Tillakaratne Dilshan carried his good form from the Asia Cup to hit yet another half-century and guide Sri Lanka to a six-wicket win against Afghanistan at the World Twenty20 on Thursday night in Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.
But what must be of great concern for the defending champions is the way they leaked runs in the last 10 overs against an Associate team. Afghanistan played with pride but Sri Lanka would be served well in this tournament if the slinger’s recovery is expedited.
Malinga, who gave up captaincy before the World T20 because of injury, came to the ground with the team but didn’t take much part in the warm-up. He was seen walking around the nets, speaking to some of the coaching staff members before putting his feet up on the sidelines. The Sri Lanka dugout seemed relaxed till about the 10th over when Afghanistan were 47/3. But then started Afghanistan’s ascent.
Riding on a career-best knock of 62, off 47 balls, by captain Asghar Stanikzai and a 14-ball 31 by Samiulla Shenwari, Afghanistan went on to add 106 runs in the next 10 overs.
The stunning assault started in the 13th over, bowled by Milinda Siriwardana, that witnessed two consecutive sixes. Stanikzai first pulled him over midwicket before taking a straighter route and Siriwardana never returned to bowl. Then there was the slew of dropped catches that only emboldened Afghanistan. Such as Stanikzai’s sweep off spinner Rangana Herath which Lahiru Thirimanne guided over the boundary at mid-wicket.
To rub salt into the wounds, Shenwari swept Herath for another six two balls later. Sri Lanka could have arrested the climbing run rate by taking two wickets in two balls but this time Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews dropped Stanikzai at cover.
The Afghanistan captain made full use of the second life by pounding Thisara Perera for 10 runs in the 19th over before Najibullah Zadran’s audacious hits took Afghanistan past 150. Throughout the death overs, none of the variations Malinga excels in were to be seen from his teammates.
Afghanistan had their moments while Sri Lanka were chasing. They managed to sneak in a maiden over and showed improvement in fielding when Shenwari’s flat throw got rid of Perera and even took the game to the penultimate over. Ultimately, they were up against a better batting unit, but not necessarily a good bowling one.