There’s much disappointment after Sri Lanka crashed to a six-wicket defeat at the hands of Afghanistan on Friday. The result has little consequences unlike last year when they were playing for World Cup Super League points. The selectors should be looking at the larger picture which is the World Cup Qualifiers later this month in Zimbabwe.
Sri Lanka shouldn’t be travelling to Zimbabwe in the first place. They should have been able to finish top eight, but we embarked on too many experiments forgetting that the day of automatic qualifications for the sport’s showpiece event are over.
We’ve got to now let bygones be bygones, bite the bullet and accept harsh realities, which is finishing top two in Zimbabwe and booking our berth to India. It will be a crying shame if the team is not able to make it having played every World Cup since the inaugural one almost 50 years ago.
It was fine going with an all-out youth policy for T-20 format but for ODIs it should have been a mixture of youth and experience.
We may find it difficult to accept but the reality is that Afghanistan are no more pushovers and there’s no shame in losing to them. Here are few facts. Three Afghans are in the list of ICC Rankings for top ten bowlers in ODI cricket. Leggie Rashid Khan and off-spinners Mujeeb ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi are all there.
Then there’s chinaman bowler Noor Ahmad, who’s probably the best left-
arm wrist spinner in the world right now. That’s not a bad attack.
Bowling obviously is Afghanistan’s strength, but with constant exposure, their batters are lifting the benchmark. During his Under-19 days, Ibrahim Zadran looked a star in the making. He’s now started giving the bowlers nightmares. He’s featured in only nine ODIs so far but nearly made a fourth hundred on Friday. That’s not a bad record.
Zadran raced to his half-century in 35 balls and once the field restrictions were off, settled down and played the anchor role. Such maturity is going to serve Afghans well.
Then there’s Rahmanullah Gurbaz, the wicketkeeper who opens batting. When he throws the kitchen sink, it’s tough to stop him.
Rahmat Shah, who notched up a half-century on Friday is a solid batter, while captain Hashmatullah Shahidi occupies the number four slot, the most important one in ODI cricket.
Don’t be surprised if the Afghans upset a few teams in this year’s World Cup. Most people would pick Australia, England, India and Pakistan to be the four semi-finalists but don’t take these Afghans lightly. They are quite capable of coming up with a few giant killing efforts.
The selectors are getting a bit of stick for recalling both Angelo Mathews and Dimuth Karunaratne after a two-year hiatus. They need to persevere with the policy for experience is going to be vital during the qualifiers. One problem the team has faced in recent years is not able to bat out 50 overs. Both seniors failed to make it count on Friday, but they’ll come good.
Captain Dasun Shanaka and deputy Kusal Mendis need to pull up their socks for they have failed to fire in recent months. Mendis has managed one half-century in the last ten ODIs and that includes six single digit scores.
Another area the team needs to work on is their dot ball problems. In the first ODI, there were some 158 dot balls which is way too many in an innings. This was an area that had been identified some three years ago but we seem to still not able to fix the issue. The sooner we do, the better it is.
The team has done well to stick to proper batters and bowlers rather than backing too many ‘all-rounders’. It was this combination that proved to be recipe for disaster during the World Cup Super League games.
Serious questions need to be asked about Lahiru Kumara’s fitness levels for he has let the team down on too many occasions. Literally, every year. In 2019, he broke down middle of a game at the Gabba. In 2020 it was at the Centurion. In 2021 at Pallekele. In 2022 at Mohali and in 2023 at Suriyawewa. Surely, we should have learnt our lessons by now.
Something that the team is lacking is a left-arm option either spin or pace. At least, Dilshan Madushanka should have made it to the squad. Still, it’s not too late. Now that Kumara is injured, there’s room for a left-arm variety.
Charith Asalanka is a breath of fresh air and as expected in little time he has fitted into the team without too much trouble. The number five slot suits his game and it’s just a matter of time before he wins the team lots more games.