Ibrahim Zadran, seamers help Afghanistan stroll to a comfortable win

Afghanistan was able to make it home thanks to Ibrahim Zadran 98

When Sri Lanka’s innings was about to end, Afghanistan’s seamers struck with the new ball to end it, before their top order easily reached a score of 269 with only losing four wickets.

Ibrahim Zadran, who opened the batting and has an excellent record in Sri Lanka, scored 98 runs, which was the high point of the batting performance. Together with Rahmat Shah, he put together a second wicket partnership of 146 runs that kept the chase on track and highlighted the Sri Lankan attack’s lack of aggression.

Maheesh Theekshana, Wanindu Hasaranga, and Dushmantha Chameera were not available for Sri Lanka in this game. However, despite this, the loss served to strengthen the belief that they earned a spot in the qualifiers for the 2023 ODI World Cup. 

Afghanistan, who have earned a spot in the major competition, have not participated in an ODI since their last match in Sri Lanka in November. However, they virtually had an easy victory in this. They struggled home with 19 balls left in the possession.

Fazalhaq Farooqi, a seamer, had earlier in the day dismissed Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Mendis within the first nine overs, putting Afghanistan on the right track to win. 

Karunaratne had been added to the lineup to provide the team consistency at the start of the innings, but he was caught for four at second slip after defending at a ball that seemed slightly away from him in the third over. Mendis drew a short ball that was hit squarely at the leg.

Sri Lanka continued to decline after that. They dropped to 61 for 3 after Fareed Ahmad removed Angelo Mathews from the game. They were then down to 84 for 4 after Mujeeb Ur Rahman dismissed Pathum Nissanka. 

They were successful in recovering, as Charith Asalanka and Dhananjaya de Silva added 99 runs for the fifth wicket with both scoring fifty runs. However, because of the damage Afghanistan’s bowlers had already done at the start of the game, they chose mostly to build runs as they went through the middle overs on a reasonably slow Hambantota track.

Despite this, Sri Lanka, which was 196 for 5 after 40 overs, could have attempted a total in the neighborhood of 280. Asalanka, who went on to make 91 off 95 before being put out in the last over, received only irregular help from their lower middle order, though. 

They were restrained throughout the last few overs, losing their final four wickets in the 48th and 49th, and were eventually dismissed off the final delivery of the innings. Despite Noor having cost the team money earlier in the innings, Fareed and the spinners Mujeeb and Noor Ahmad were superb through this stage.

Ibrahim’s innings in response was generally trouble-free. After hitting Kasun Rajitha for two consecutive fours in the seventh over, he chipped one just short of the point fielder but didn’t face any major danger to his wicket. 

There was some concern that Afghanistan could find Matheesha Pathirana’s action challenging when he entered the game, but in the 12th over, Ibrahim lifted him for two sixes over deep square leg. Even though he reached the magic number off a thick edge, he only needed 35 balls to get there.

He had only one failure to reach fifty in his last four innings in Sri Lanka. His two half-centuries from before had been changed to hundreds.

Rahmanullah Gurbaz hit one on to his stumps on 14, but Ibrahim quickly found a foil in Rahmat as he sped through the early overs. Rahmat, who entered the game at No. 3, hit the first ball he saw for four past midwicket but otherwise played well. 

He didn’t hit a boundary from his next 63 deliveries and only collected 12 from his first 30 balls. He made most of his progress by hitting singles between cover and mid-on, and it took him 75 balls to reach fifty.

Afghanistan’s run rate never fell below what was necessary. Before misplaying a draw off Rajitha two short of a hundred, Ibrahim, who had struck 11 fours in addition to his two sixes, had made sure of that. When Rahmat top-edged a short ball and offered a fine leg with a catch, he would eventually become Pathirana’s first international wicket. 

However, Afghanistan only needed 58 runs from 78 deliveries at that point because they already had seven wickets. Despite losing one more batter, their captain Hashmatullah Shahidi, Mohammad Nabi was there to make sure that everything went smoothly in the end.

The outcome was a reminder that considerable work needed to be done on the depth-building front for Sri Lanka, who appeared to be experimenting with their attack by giving debuts to Dushan Hemantha and Pathirana. Pathirana’s 8.5 overs cost 66 and Hemantha failed to take a wicket.

Even worse for Sri Lanka, Lahiru Kumara had to leave the field in the middle of his fifth over due to what appeared to be a hamstring injury at first. His likely absence could be crucial because the qualifiers are scheduled to start in Zimbabwe in a little more than two weeks.