Sri Lanka came into their 2nd game of their ICC Cricket World Cup after having been given a hiding by the Kiwis in their opener. Wicketless and helpless against the onslaught of Martin Guptil and Colin Munro, the only thing worse than the bowling was their batting – crumbling for 136.
This time they were up against Afghanistan though, against whom a loss would mean ‘the death of Sri Lanka cricket’ (to remind you, Sri Lanka have in fact lost to Afghanistan previously). So, in a sense, there was even more pressure on them now, than if they were facing a top team!
Kusal Perera was sent to open the batting alongside Dimuth Karunaratne and what a masterstroke it turned out to be! The pair 92 for the 1st wicket, in just 13.1 overs to get Sri Lanka off to the perfect start.
An 11th ODI half-century followed for Kusal Perera, and it was almost like you were transported back to the times when Sri Lanka were the world’s ultimate ‘minnow-bashers’!
Just as Sri Lanka were cruising along, on cruise control, Kusal Perera bossing the game… ‘Rashid who?’ on their lips, on came Mohammed Nabi aka The President! The 22nd over of the Lankan innings went 0.W.2.W.0.W. Lahiru Thirimanne bowled, Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews caught at slip and just like that Sri Lanka’s projected score dropped from 320+ to just creeping over 220.
You would think that with Kusal Perera on the other end, the man walloping the bowlers all over the park, just idling as non-striker, the Sri Lankan lower-middle order would have the sense to give him the strike – you thought wrong.
Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka’s gem – the weight of allll thossse expectations, all resting on Lasith. And he got the breakthrough, sending back the dangerous Mohammed Shahzad.
Rahmat Shah fell victim to Isuru Udana before Zazai himself hooked one to deep fine leg where Thisara Perera took a brilliant catch diving forward. Pradeep got his 1st, Hashmatullah Shahidi and then Perera picked up the main man – Mohammed Nabi – the smiles were back!
Afghanistan, with a win against a top 10 team in their sights, were not going to go down without a fight. The counter-attack came from the calm Gulbadin Naib – the skipper. He was joined by Najibullah Zadran.
But Nuwan Pradeep just wouldn’t let up, bouncers, slower balls, Yorkers, they were all hurled at the batsmen – Sri Lanka couldn’t lose, not to Afghanistan! The fast one picked up Naib and Rashid Khan in one more, threatening the Afghani resistance.
Gulbadin was gone, so was Rashid Khan but Najibullah held on until, Sri Lanka produced a direct hit (would you believe it?) Karunaratne the man to hit the stumps and send Afghanistan back to the bottom of the pile.
The man who started it, fittingly finished it! A roar from Malinga, the icing on the mistake-riddled, crumbling Sri Lankan cake.