Asia Cup 2022, Super 4, Afghanistan vs Sri Lanka: Rahmanullah Gurbaz's 84, Maheesh Theekshana's 1-29 and Bhanuka Rajapaksa's 31 off 14 are top performances. Sri Lanka beat Afghanistan by 4 wickets.
Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 179/6 (Mendis 36, Rajapaksa 31, Mujeeb 2/30) beat Afghanistan 175/6 (Gurbaz 84, Ibrahim Zadran 40, Madushanka 2/37) by four wickets
Player of the Match: Rahmanullah Gurbaz (84 runs in 45 balls)
Afghanistan who were high on confidence with their back-to-back victories in the group stage, locked horns with Sri Lanka who somehow managed to qualify for Super 4 stage with a close win over Bangladesh, in the first game of the Super Four in Asia Cup 2022 at the iconic Sharjah Cricket Stadium in Sharjah on Saturday.
Rare poor day in the bowling department for Afghanistan
Defending 176 runs on a slow Sharjah surface, it was expected that the Afghanistan bowlers would do well, especially their spinners, but Sri Lanka attacked them smartly. They took on the Afghanistan bowlers early in the powerplay and as Mohammad Nabi produced his trump card Rashid Khan, he too was sent around the park for 17 runs in his first over.
The pressure too seemed to be taking toll on the bowlers and they perhaps missed that vital sixth bowling option on a rare poor day with ball in hand. Even though Rashid got a wicket, he was slammed for 39 runs in his four overs as the three spinners went for 4/103 in 12 overs collectively. They will look to polish themselves before their next assignment for sure.
Sri Lanka begin Super Four phase with a cracking victory
Both sides have faced each other only twice in T20Is with both registering a win apiece. In their last meeting, Afghanistan had a cakewalk with an eight-wicket victory.
Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka on winning the toss opted to bowl first on a track which was expected to get slower as the game would progress. Afghanistan made one change as Samiullah Shinwari replaced Azmatullah Omarzi while Sri Lanka fielded an unchanged eleven.
Put in to bat first, Afghanistan after an early wicket of Hazratullah Zazai reached 49/1 in the powerplay. The 93-run stand for the second wicket between Ibrahim Zadran and Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who was in supreme touch propelled Afghanistan to 132/1 in 14 overs. Even though they were looking good for a huge score on the board, some good punctual death bowling from Sri Lanka reduced Afghanistan to 175/6 in their allotted 20 overs.
Sri Lanka kicked off the chase in the best way by collecting 57 runs without any damage in the first six overs. Afghanistan did pull them back with regular wickets to reduce Sri Lanka to 87/2 in 11 overs but Bhanuka Rajapaksa with help from the lower order kept the attack on the opponent bowlers as Sri Lanka registered a splendid victory by four wickets. The island nation’s 179/6 is now the highest successful chase against Afghanistan in T20Is and in Sharjah.
Let’s scan the top three performances from the game between Sri Lanka and Afghanistan in Asia Cup 2022:
Clinical Rahmanullah Gurbaz celebrated firing 84 with crunchy shots
Afghanistan opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz entertained the spectators with an exciting 18-ball 40 in their opening game against Sri Lanka in this tournament and he displayed a similar kind of performance in their second encounter.
Gurbaz played just two balls in the first couple of overs before freeing his arms. He smoked a huge six over wide long-on against Maheesh Theekshana before getting a life at the same place as the fielder touched the rope to offer Gurbaz another six. Gurbaz has scored 32 runs in 13 balls against Theekshana with four sixes and one boundary.
Gurbaz then flicked the ball over fine leg through his hips for his third six before cutting through the point region for a boundary. He opened the bat face for another boundary through point before slogging another six over deep mid-wicket. With a single, Gurbaz celebrated his fifth T20I fifty in just 22 balls, which is the second-fastest for Afghanistan behind Mohammad Nabi’s 21-ball half-century.
Gurbaz kept on playing his shots as a thick edge against Shanaka lopped off over the short third fielder before he cleared the long-off fielder. Gurbaz now has 16 runs against Shanaka in just eight balls. The Afghanistan opener smashed Chamika Karunaratne over long-on for his sixth six of the evening before being caught on 84 in just 45 balls with four boundaries and six maximums.
Gurbaz, who now has 811 T20I runs in 30 games, is now the youngest to score a half-century in the T20I format of the Asia Cup besides having the most number of half-centuries (5) at the age of 20 among the top 10 ranked teams in T20Is. His 22-ball fifty is also the second-fastest fifty in Asia Cup as Afghanistan ended on 175/6.
Theekshana slows down Afghanistan in death overs
Maheesh Theekshana wasn’t in the best of form in Sri Lanka’s first encounter against Afghanistan when the off-spinner was belted away for 35 runs in his four overs without any success.
Theekshana didn’t start well in his first two powerplay overs going for 22 runs without taking any wicket and that helped Afghanistan reach a strong position at 138/1 in 15 overs. Shanaka brought back Theekshana at the back end of the game and the spinner did well costing just five runs.
In his last and 19th over of the game, Theekshana dismissed Mohammad Nabi who offered the bowler an easy return catch. Theekshana gave away just nine runs with that wicket in the last two overs as Afghanistan could reach 175 in their 20 overs collecting just 43 runs in the last six overs.
Theekshana finished with figures of 1/29 in his four overs bowled at crucial stages.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa turned the game on its head with valuable contribution
Chasing 176, Sri Lankan openers gave them a good start in the powerplay but somehow, they lost their path in the middle. From 57/0 in six overs, they collapsed to 119/3 in 14 overs as Bhanuka Rajapaksa walked in the middle.
Rajapaksa used his feet straightaway to drill the ball through extra cover for a boundary. In an over bowled by Naveen-ul-Haq, first, Rajapaksa carved the ball through backward point for a boundary before smacking it through extra cover for the same result. He stepped out to fire a slower ball over the rope for a six before he got lucky through a dropped catch.
Some handy contributions came from the other batters helped Sri Lanka reach closer to victory. Rajapaksa drove another one over the rope for a boundary being dismissed. The left-hander, who now has 421 T20I runs in 24 T20Is, finished on a match-winning score of 31 in just 14 balls thanks to four boundaries and one maximum.
What’s to Come
Sunday evening will see the second-round encounter of India and their old rivals Pakistan at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium in Dubai.