In April 2021, opening batsman Dimuth Karunaratne posted his career best score in Test match cricket when he scored 244 against Bangladesh at Pallekele. At that point, he was Sri Lanka’s ODI captain as well but was sacked and dropped unceremoniously as the team toured Bangladesh for a three match ODI series a month later.
The white ball captaincy had been handed to Kusal Janith Perera, an experiment that didn’t last long. It didn’t occur to the selectors that Dimuth had posted a double hundred against the same opponents and he would have been an asset in the ODI format facing the same bowlers.
Dimuth maybe not the most extravagant ODI batsman but he had been put in there with a purpose. Sri Lanka had been struggling to bat out the 50 overs and since Dimuth’s arrival that issue had been addressed. But soon with him out of the ODI outfit, the old problems resurfaced. Sri Lanka lost the ODI series and in both games that they were beaten, there were batting collapses. As a result, the team failed to collect valuable World Cup Super League points and eventually were forced to play in the qualifiers.
The selectors have been forced to bite the bullet and admit that there had been a mistake by recalling Dimuth for the Afghanistan series. But by the time they had wisened up, the horse had bolted.
Letting bygones be bygones, Dimuth’s addition will serve Sri Lanka well. Amidst many stroke makers, he will be the one who will stabilize the innings. With Angelo Mathews already in the side, he will be able to provide the finishing touches.
If Kusal Janith Perera is cleared for the 50 over format, Sri Lanka’s batting will look quite formidable.
The hosts have so many fast-bowling options to choose from. The return of Dushmantha Chameera is reason to feel happy while Matheesha Pathirana with so much expectations on him is expected to make his ODI debut in Hambantota. The Afghan batters will have their work cut out if Matheesha gets his act together. Left-arm quick Dilshan Madushanka is another player who needs to be persevered with as he’s got the potential to go onto become a match winner.
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Afghanistan earned automatic qualification for the World Cup last November in Sri Lanka when they won the first ODI at Pallekele and then the second game was washed out with teams sharing points. So, this upcoming series is of little importance for them. Hence, they will use it to figure out what’s their best combination for the sport’s showpiece event later this year in India.
Afghanistan of course are a dominant side in the T-20 format although they have several areas to iron out in the 50 over game. However, with each day they are becoming a force to be reckoned with in the sport and have created quite a few upsets overs the years. Fancy them to upset a few big teams in the World Cup.
Afghanistan have equal number of representations in the IPL like Sri Lanka. Rashid Khan, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Noor Ahmad and Fazalhaq Farooqi all featured in the IPL. Naveen-ul-Haq, who did so well for Lucknow Super Giants isn’t even part of the ODI outfit. With constant exposure at big events like the IPL Afghan cricket is going to get stronger and better.
Apart from Rashid, there’s plenty of experience in the squad in the form of Mohammad Nabi, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Rahmat Shah, Najibullah Zadran, Ibrahim Zadran and Mujeeb Ur Rahman and this should be a cracking contest.
Top order batsman Ibrahim Zadran is the biggest draw in their batting unit. The 21-year-old has featured in only eight ODIs and has already scored three hundreds including a career best 162 against Sri Lanka at Pallekele, the highest score ever by an Afghan in an ODI.
Afghanistan’s bowling is their strength. If you take the current ICC ODI rankings, three of their players feature in the top ten amongst the bowlers. While Rasheed is ranked sixth, Mujeeb is in seventh followed by Nabi, one slot below him.
June in Zimbabwe is going to be early winter and the ball will seam around earlier on with the qualifiers being day games. Sri Lanka need to prepare accordingly. It will help that Head Coach Chris Silverwood has some experience over there having coaches Mashonaland (Harare) in his early days before his success started with Essex and then England.
The former champions should be fine during qualifiers, but they will be under a bit of pressure as they have got everything to lose having featured in all World Cups starting from the inaugural one in 1975. Other than West Indies, none of the other teams will be feeling that kind of pressure.