Averting what could have been an another upset in the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, Sri Lankan bowlers stepped up to salvage pride for their team as they succeeded in wrapping up minnows Afghanistan for 152 runs in 32.4 overs to set up a 34-run victory in the rain-affected clash at the Sophia Gardens here on Tuesday. Nuwan Pradeep (4/34) and Lasith Malinga (3/39) rose to the occasion, helping Sri Lnka defend a revised meagre 187-run target in the given 41 overs. Apart for them, Isuru Udana and Thisara Perera picked a wicket apiece.
Chasing the revised target based on the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern (DLS) method, Mohammad Shahzad (7) and Hazratullah Zazai (30) started cautiously with their score looking decent at 29 for no loss in first four overs before Malinga packed back the former four balls later.
Afghanistan then underwent a story similar to their opponents as they lost four wickets in another 23 runs. Rahmat Shah (2), Zazai, Hashmatullah Shahidi (4) and Mohammad Nabi (4) departed in quick succesion and it seemed Sri Lanka would bundle out the dark horses quickly.
The story however, had a turn as Gulbadin Naib (23) and Najibullah Zadran (43) denied the Sri Lankan bowlers making any further inroads. Besides keeping the score ticking, the duo also steered their side past the 100-run mark in 21.1 overs, keeping Afghanistan's hopes alive.
They added another 21 runs together before Pradeep accounted for Gulbadin in the 25th over. While Najibullah gave his best to help his side cross the line, he lacked support from the lower middle-order as the Sri Lankan bowlers picked Rashid Khan (2), Dawlat Zadran (6) and Hamid Hassan (6) cheaply.
While trying to pick a single, Najibullah also fell short of the crease as Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne hit the stumps directly to end Afghanistan's dream of creating an another upset when they were at 145/9.
Malinga then performed the last rites after sending back Hassan in just the next over. Earlier despite a good start, the Sri Lankan middle-order failed to convert it into a good total as Afghanistan off-spinner Nabi rattled their top order to restrict them to 201 runs in the rain-affected match.
Nabi was the wrecker-in-chief with figures of 4/30, while Dawlat Zadran and Rashid Khan picked a couple of wickets each.
Opener Kusal Perera was the lone fighter and top scorer for his side with a valiant 78 runs off 81 balls, while all other his teammates succumbed before the minnows' bowling attack. Perera, who departed in the 33rd over, smashed eight boundaries in his innings.
Put into bat, Karunaratne (30 off 45) and Perera took the team to a flying start as their scorecard read a decent 52 for no loss in the initial five overs. The duo then steadily took their side near the three-digit mark. However, when Sri Lanka were at 92 runs, the whole scenario changed as Karunaratne, while trying to clear the boundary, mistimed Nabi's delivery and ended up handing a catch to Najibullah at long-on in the 14th over.
Perera and Lahiru Thirimanne (25 off 34) were then involved in a short 52-run partnership for the second wicket. However, the latter's stay was cut short by Rashid Khan in the 22nd over. Thirimanne's fall saw Sri Lanka suffering a batting collapse as they lost three wickets of Kusal Mendis (2), Angelo Mathews (0) and Dhananjaya de Silva (0) within the next 15 runs.
Perera tried his best to keep the scorers busy but lacked support from the others as incoming batsman Thisara Perera (2) also threw his wicket, leaving Lanka reeling at 159/6. Dawlat Zadran added more sorrows to Lankan camp when he packed back Isuru Udana (10) before Perera also became a victim of Rashid Khan before rain stopped play. After the rains stopped, Sri Lanka could only manage another 21 runs as unbeaten Suranga Lakmal chipped in with 15 runs, while Malinga contributed with four runs.
Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 201 all out in 36.5 overs (Kusal Perera 78, Lahiru Thirimanne 25; Mohammad Nabi 4/30) beat Afghanistan 152 all out in 35.4 overs (Najibullah Zadran 43, Hazratullah Zazai 30, Nuwan Pradeep 4/31) by 34 runs - IANS