Cricket World Cup 2019: Sri Lanka cling on to claim much-needed win over Afghanistan

Mohammad Nabi's three wickets in five balls saw Sri Lanka slump to 146-4 before rain delayed play. Afghanistan came up 34 runs short in their revised DLS target

Sri Lanka's Nuwan Pradeep, left, celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Afghanistan's Hashmatullah Shahidi. Reuters
Sri Lanka's Nuwan Pradeep, left, celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Afghanistan's Hashmatullah Shahidi. Reuters

Nuwan Pradeep bowled Sri Lanka to a much-needed victory as they managed to avoid a humbling at the hands of Afghanistan at the Cricket World Cup.

Pradeep took 4-31 as the 1996 champions finally quelled an Afghan onslaught to win by 34 runs after a Duckworth Lewis Stern revision in Cardiff.

Given the state of disarray they have found themselves in, a defeat to the lowest-ranked side in the tournament did not bear thinking about for the Sri Lankans.

After their shambolic opening to this tournament in a 10-wicket loss to New Zealand, Sri Lanka needed a response this time around. And initially they got just that, as Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera razed Afghanistan’s new-ball bowlers.

The openers shared 92 for the first wicket, before being parted at the start of the 14th over. Once Karunaratne went for 30, though, Sri Lanka’s effort with the bat faltered alarmingly.

The scene was reminiscent of the first day humbling against New Zealand, only against an attack that was a lot less heralded than that of the Black Caps.

Mohammed Nabi took four wickets in no time, including three in one over, as the Sri Lankans crumbled from 144-1 to 180-8, at which point the game was delayed by increasingly heavy drizzle.

When the best part of two hours of rain knocked out the middle of the match, the game was reduced to 41 overs each. And yet Sri Lanka did not even make it that far, as Rashid Khan and Dawlat Zadran took the wickets to end their innings in the 37th over, for 201.

Perera’s breezy innings of 78 appeared in danger of going to waste, as Nabi ended with four for 30, and Rashid a miserly 2-17 from 7.5 overs. Afghanistan’s target was then reduced down to 187 by the DLS calculation.

Sri Lanka’s recent past has been characterised by a string of supine performances in one-day international cricket. As a marker of just how bad it has been, Lasith Malinga, their champion fast-bowler, had not won an ODI over the course of two years and 21 matches.

This time around, though, they showed some backbone - and chiefly, Pradeep.

Afghanistan had made a bright enough beginning to their response, with Hazratullah Zazai finding his range early on.

The left-handed opener, who made global headlines in Sharjah last season when he hit six sixes in an over in the Afghanistan Premier League, was in typically bullish mood.

His rapid 30 included one huge six, but when he fell to a brilliant catch by Thisara Perera at fine-leg off Pradeep, Afghanistan’s momentum halted.

Pradeep accounted for three more potential dangermen, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Rashid Khan and the captain Gulbadin Naib, to swing the game inexorably into Sri Lanka’s favour.

Najibullah Zadran provided some late resistance, just as he had done in Afghanistan’s loss to Australia in their opening fixture at Bristol.

The left-hander made a counter-attacking 43 before he was run out by a direct hit run out by Karunaratne to end Afghanistan’s hopes, as they were bowled out for 152.

Few could have celebrated the win with such gratitude as Malinga. The 35-year-old pace-bowler ended his winless run in the format in style, taking the last wicket to fall and ended with 3-39.

Updated: June 5, 2019 04:35 AM

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