After a horrific batting collapse, Sri Lanka came back with a wondrous bowling performance to seal a dramatic victory against Afghanistan by 34 runs by the DLS method, at Cardiff Wales Stadium.
Afghanistan won the toss and chose to field. Sri Lanka had 144 on the board after 21 overs when they lost their second wicket.
However, they fell victim to a disastrous batting collapse, losing nine wickets for 57 runs, resulting in a final score of 201 all out.
The three hour rain delay which began towards the end of the Sri Lankan innings meant that Afghanistan needed only 187 from 41 overs, under the DLS method.
Afghanistan though succumbed to their own batting collapse which blighted their innings, as Sri Lanka’s pace men led them to victory in an extraordinary comeback.
Captain Dimuth Karunaratne and Wicket keeper Kusal Perera got Sri Lanka off to a flyer. They completely dominated Afghanistan’s bowlers in the first powerplay as they scored a rapid-fire 79-0 off the first 10 overs.
Sri Lanka’s opening partnership of 92 from 79 balls, seemed destined to set their side up for a big score, and well on the way down the road to redemption.
However their free-flowing innings was interrupted by Karunaratne (30 from 45 balls) losing his wicket for the first time in the tournament, having carried bat in their first match against New Zealand.
In the 14th over, the skipper attempted to loft Mohammed Nabi over long on, but did not connect well enough, and Najibullah Zadran held onto the ball.
At this stage, the Afghan fielders were guilty of misfields as they were feeling the pressure from the strong running of the Sri Lankan batsmen.
Perera then reached his half century in style as Afghan captain Gulbadin bowled a howler of an over in the 17th. He followed up a no ball, with two wides, in his effort to avoid damage from the free hit.
When Perera finally got the opportunity to capitalise from the free hit, he smashed it in the air to the boundary by deep cover for a four to notch up his fifty.
When Gulbadin bowled another no-ball the next ball, Perera hit another four past deep cover, this time along the ground.
Lahiru Thirimanne had been demoted to number 3 after the horror show against New Zealand. The former opening batsman scored 25 from 34 balls in his quest to redeem himself.
However, the 22nd over became the beginning of the end for Sri Lanka, as Man of the Moment Mohammed Nabi (4 for 30, 9 overs) claimed three wickets in five balls.
Thirimanne was the first to fall, bowled by one that kept low which he edged onto the stumps. Next was Kusal Mendis who edged the second delivery he faced to Rahmat Shah at slip. The third victim of the over, Angelo Mathews, lost his wicket in an identical way to Mendis, edging to Rahmat at slip.
Sri Lanka’s fall into the abyss continued the next over as the inspired seemer Hamid Hassan bowled a ripper which Dhananjaya de Silva edged through to wicket keeper Mohammed Shahzad. Sri Lanka had now fallen to 149-5.
Kusal Perera attempted to resist and dig his heels in but he was running out of partners. Thisara Perera was run out on 2 off 4, when he made a poor decision to run a single, was sent back by his partner. A lightning-quick gather and throw by Hashmatullah Shahidi and keeper Shahzad sprinted in and whipped off the bails in an instant.
Isuru Udana made a vain effort to support Perera, his innings including hitting Nabi for a huge six down the ground. But a swing and a miss to a straight delivery from Dawlat Zadran left his stumps destroyed.
Afghanistan finally managed to take the big wicket of Kusal Perera in the 33rd over. The latter attempted to sweep Rashid Khan, but gloved helplessly into the hands of Shahzad.
With the score at 180-8, the rain began to pour at 13:05 local time. Play was delayed for almost three hours, and resumed at 16:00.
Sri Lanka added another 21 for the last two wickets largely thanks to the efforts of Suranga Lakmal. Dawlat bowled a slower yorker that dipped, which Malinga dragged onto his stumps. Pradeep was bowled by Rashid Khan for a duck.
Sri Lanka finished on 201 all out off 36.5 overs. Due to DLS, Afghanistan’s revised target was 187 from 41 overs.
At the half way stage, Afghanistan would have fancied themselves to finish the job, as would have many observers.
The Afghan openers made a positive start. Although they lacked footwork, which consisted of planting the back foot and keeping the front foot out of the way, Shahzad and Hazrutullah began confidently. The former played the big shots and the latter knocked the singles.
Sri Lanka needed their opening bowlers to fire from the off, and veteran Lasith Malinga bowled a consistently excellent line and length, and he was swinging the ball with beautiful shape.
The openers’ bright start was brought to a premature end in the fifth over. Shahzad mistimed a leg side shot which looped up to Karunaratne at short mid-wicket.
Afghanistan then fell to a catastrophic collapse of their own. They went from 34-0 to 57-5, losing 5 wickets for 23 runs.
In the 8th over, Rahmat (2 from 11) fell to a brilliant angled delivery from Udana, which the former knicked to Mathews at slip.
The next over was the beginning of the onslaught from Man of the Match Nuwan Pradeep. However, credit for Hazratullah’s dismissal goes to Thisara Perera, who made up for an poor batting performance with an outstanding catch. He frantically sprinted from the fine leg boundary to make a spectacular catch from a high top edge.
Hashmatullah Shahidi failed to make a start and fell for 4 off 17 balls. He edged a firecracker from Pradeep to the keeper Kusal Perera.
Following his fantastic momentum-swinging catch in the field, Thisara Perera then made an immedia impact with the ball. He bowled the dangerous all-rounder Nabi with an off-cutter, which hit the front pad. As he jumped up to appeal for lbw, the ball rebounded onto the stumps.
Captain Gulbadin and Najibullah rebuilt Afghanistan’s innings and kept them in the match. They made the most of scampering for the ones and twos to keep the score ticking over.
Their commendable 64-run partnership was brought to an end by the match-winner Pradeep, who trapped captain Gulabdin. The Afghan captain, who ended on 23 from 32 balls, asked for the review to no avail.
The usually enigmatic Rashid Khan did not manage to make an impact in this game. And he was bowled on his fourth ball by, you guessed it, Pradeep, who finished with 4 for 31 from 9 overs.
Lasith Malinga secured the win for Sri Lanka and proved that he is still a match-winner and a finisher. An unplayable fantastic low-trajectory reverse swinging yorkers ended the night for Dawlat Zadran.
The final nail in the coffin for the Afghans was the disastrous run out of Najibullah Zadran, who made a brave 43 from 56, and was close to seeing Afghanistan home.
Hamid Hassan fell victim to another trademark Malinga yorker, to complete the most stunning comeback for Sri Lanka, who at the half-way stage seemed down and out.
Both sides can walk away from this match with many positives. Afghanistan continue to impress, particularly with their exciting bowling. Critics might have questioned Sri Lanka’s mentality and desire to win, but they proved that they can execute when the pressure is on.
It was another match where the fans created a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium, and really added another dimension to the spectacle. Along with the other Asian countries, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan both have some of the most colourful and passionate fanbases in the United Kingdom.
If both Sri Lanka and Afghanistan can take the best account that they showed of themselves in this match into the rest of the tournament, they will be a difficult to defeat for any of their opponents.
Images courtesy of ICC Cricket World Cup Twitter account