Afghanistan ambush Sri Lanka to boost semi-final bid
PUNE: A spirited Afghanistan upset another former champion on Monday when Hashmatullah Shahidi’s men defeated 1996 winners Sri Lanka by seven wickets to continue their memorable campaign at the 50-overs World Cup and maintain their hopes of a semi-final place.
Their bowlers — led by recalled left-arm fast bowler Fazalhaq Farooqi (4-34) — had laid the foundation of their third win in six matches when they bowled out Sri Lanka for a below-par 241 in 49.3 overs.
Three of their top five batters, including Shahidi, then produced half-centuries in a clinical chase which they accomplished in 45.2 overs to move to the fifth place in the points table.
Azmatullah Omarzai (73) scored the winning run with Shahidi (58) looking on from the other end, the pair sharing an unbroken stand of 111.
Afghanistan now have an outright chance of making the last four in India. They have six points and sit in fifth place in the table, two behind New Zealand and Australia with the top four guaranteed to make the semis.
Victory also meant Afghanistan, who’d already beaten champions England, had won back-to-back matches at the World Cup for the first time after they defeated Pakistan by eight wickets last time out.
Prior to this edition, they had managed just one win — against non-Test nation Scotland in 2015 — from their appearances at two previous World Cups.
Yet they have now beaten three World Cup winners in England, 1992 champions Pakistan and 1996 kings Sri Lanka.
“I’m quite happy and proud of the team. I thought we performed well in all three departments,” said Shahidi at the presentation ceremony. “The Pakistan game gave us a lot of confidence that we can chase down any kind of target. The chase was very professional and I am very happy about it.”
Victory was another triumph for Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott, with this success coming against a Sri Lanka team coached by another former England international in Chris Silverwood.
Farooqi had been recalled in place of Noor Ahmad despite the teenage spinner’s three wickets against Pakistan.
But on a less spin-friendly pitch, Afghanistan’s judgement was vindicated as was Shahidi’s decision to field upon winning the toss because of worries about dew later in the game.
Farooqi struck throughout the innings, while off-spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman kept things tight with 2-38 in 10 overs.
Opening batsman Pathum Nissanka made 46 but no other Sri Lankan managed more than Kusal Mendis’ 39.
Nissanka was in sight of his fifth fifty in six innings this World Cup when caught behind trying to cut Omarzai.
Star leg-spinner Rashid Khan then marked his 100th One-day International by bowling Dhananjaya de Silva with a superb googly that completely deceived the batsman.
Mujeeb then struck in successive balls, removing the set Mendis and Sadeera Samarawickrama (36).
Angelo Mathews and Maheesh Theekshana raised 45 quick runs for the eighth wicket but Sri Lanka still fell short of the 250-mark.
Farooqi’s superb yorker accounted for tailender Theekshana before he had Mathews caught in the deep off a well-disguised slower ball.
Afghanistan lost Rahmanullah Gurbaz in the first over but Rahmat Shah (62) and Ibrahim Zadran (39) calmed the nerves with a 73-run partnership.
Kasun Rajitha dismissed Rahmat but not before the batter had brought up his second successive fifty of the tournament.
Shahidi and Omarzai mixed caution with occasional aggression in their unbroken century stand to take Afghanistan closer to the target.
With victory in sight, both decided to play their shots and Azmatullah scored the winning run when he attempted to hit a six and was dropped at deep midwicket.
“I think we were a little bit short of runs,” Sri Lanka captain Mendis said after their fourth loss in six matches. “240 as not enough on this pitch. We needed 280 or 300 on this pitch. I think the bowlers did well in the first 10 overs but it was tough after that.” —
P. Nissanka c Gurbaz b Omarzai 46
D. Karunaratne lbw b Farooqi 15
K. Mendis c sub (Najibullah Zadran) b Mujeeb 39
S. Samarawickrama lbw b Mujeeb 36
C. Asalanka c Rashid b Farooqi 22
D. de Silva b Rashid 14
A. Mathews c Nabi b Farooqi 23
D. Chameera run out (Ibrahim Zadran) 1
M. Theekshana b Farooqi 29
K. Rajitha run out (Gurbaz) 5
D. Madushanka not out 0
EXTRAS (LB-2, W-9) 11
TOTAL (all out, 49.3 overs) 241
FALL OF WICKETS: 1-22 (Karunaratne), 2-84 (Nissanka), 3-134 (Mendis), 4-139 (Samarawickrama), 5-167 (De Silva), 6-180 (Asalanka), 7-185 (Chameera), 8-230 (Theekshana), 9-239 (Mathews).
BOWLING: Mujeeb 10-0-38-2; Fazalhaq 10-1-34-4; Naveen 6.3-0-47-0 (2w); Azmatullah 7-0-37-1 (1w); Rashid 10-0-50-1 (2w); Nabi 6-0-33-0.
Rahmanullah Gurbaz b Madushanka 0
Ibrahim Zadran c Karunaratne b Madushanka 39
Rahmat Shah c Karunaratne b Rajitha 62
Hashmatullah Shahidi not out 58
Azmatullah Omarzai not out 73
EXTRAS (LB-1, W-9) 10
TOTAL (for three wkts, 45.2 overs) 242
DID NOT BAT: Ikram Alikhil, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Naveen-ul-Haq, Fazalhaq Farooqi.
FALL OF WICKETS: 1-0 (Gurbaz), 2-73 (Ibrahim), 3-131 (Rahmat).
BOWLING: Madushanka 9-0-48-2 (3w); Rajitha 10-0-48-1 (2w); Mathews 3-0-18-0; Chameera 9.2-0-51-0; Theekshana 10-0-55-0 (3w); De Silva 4-0-21-0.
RESULT: Afghanistan won by seven wickets.
PLAYER-OF-THE-MATCH: Fazalhaq Farooqi (Afghanistan).
Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2023