Matheesha Pathirana: I try to be calm under pressure and that’s why I smile
In a match for the ages played in Lahore, Afghanistan won fans’ hearts and minds, but Sri Lanka emerged victorious. The scorecard will show that Sri Lanka won by two runs, which gave them their 12th straight ODI victory, but it just scratches the surface of how close the game was to ending either way.
Afghanistan understood at the toss that any chase would need to be finished in roughly 37 overs for them to get their NRR to qualifying standards after their dreadful loss to Bangladesh.
The fact that, if they were successful, Sri Lanka’s NRR would fall below both Bangladesh’s and Afghanistan’s would add a little spice to this scenario and would ultimately result in the elimination of the defending champions.
Due to Kusal Mendis‘ 84-ball 92 and a late stand between Dunith Wellalage and Maheesh Theekshana, Sri Lanka finished on 291 for 8; as a result, Afghanistan needed to complete their mark in 37.1 overs.
The game was in Sri Lanka’s favor for a significant portion of the chase, but Mohammad Nabi’s 32-ball 65 kindled the spark of hope that quickly spread across the Afghan camp.
By the time Nabi collapsed, the equation had changed to 91 from 64 when he walked in with 171 needed off of 110. He scored an innings with six fours and five sixes while pulling, swatting, cutting, and slapping Sri Lanka’s bowlers all around the Gaddafi Stadium in between.
The remainder of the batsmen, who had previously battled to keep up a high strike rate against Bangladesh two days earlier, would find the boundaries when necessary to keep up with the run rate because of the influence of Nabi’s innings.
Ultimately, Mujeeb Ur Rahman needed to get three runs off one ball, thus Rashid Khan was left to do it. Rashid Khan hit three boundaries in the final four balls of the 37th over. Mujeeb would miss the long shot, but that would not be the end of it.
If Afghanistan had managed to raise their total to 295 in 37.5 overs, or effectively with a single six, they would have still been eligible for the tournament. But surprisingly, it does not seem like the Afghan players were informed of this.
In order to play out two defensive strokes, Farooqi, the No. 11, would then attempt a third block but was caught lbw. As Sri Lanka pulled off an incredible victory to take first place in Group B, Rashid cut a despondent figure at the opposite end.
Though Sri Lanka was comfortably in charge before Nabi’s intervention, much more so after the powerplay. The early enforcer, Kasun Rajitha, claimed the wickets of top-order batsmen Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran for a total of 4 for 79.
Having been moved up the order, Gulbadin Naib attempted a quick comeback with a 16-ball 20 that featured four boundaries, but Matheesha Pathirana caught him lbw with the first ball.
The Afghans were then kept in the game by a 71-run partnership between Hashmatullah Shahidi and Rahmat Shah, but Sri Lanka did not start to take Sri Lanka seriously until Nabi entered the game. No one was secure during this time, neither on the pitch nor in the stands, as Nabi easily detected the openings.
He would make his first attack against Pathirana at 244, Rajitha at 160, Shanaka at 366, and Wellalage at 233. He only really struggled against Theekshana, yet even then, he struck at 128 against him. So it makes sense that Theekshana would be the one to fire him.
Nabi had a part in limiting Sri Lanka to a score of less than 300 in Lahore, which had another excellent batting surface, before he nearly won the game. He was the only bowler on both teams to go for less than six runs per over with his 10 overs, which went wicketless but only for 35 runs.
This would be essential in limiting the Lankans to a reachable objective of 292 points. Naib and Rashid, who would finish with statistics of 4 for 60 and 2 for 63, respectively, did the most damage with the ball.
At different occasions during their batting innings, Sri Lanka threatened to put the game out of Afghanistan’s reach, but not completely. Before Nabi struck, Pathum Nissanka and Dimuth Karunaratne’s opening stand of 63 off 62 appeared dangerous. He would soon receive two more, leaving Sri Lanka with 86 for three.
Then, after 102 runs were added by Mendis and Charith Asalanka for the fourth wicket, Rashid would bowl to terminate the partnership. Later, after Dasun Shanaka lost a return catch that deflected onto the stumps of the non-striker, he would accidentally run out Mendis. In order to put Sri Lanka at risk of not completing their 50 overs, he would also have Shanaka, casting the Lankan captain around his legs.
However, Wellalage struck the ball at this point that ultimately gave Sri Lanka the victory. Wellalage and Theekshana put on a stand of 64 runs at a touch over run-a-ball after Sri Lanka had reached 227 for 7 in the 40th over to help the team to their final winning score. While Theekshana contributed 28 in 24, he would make 33 in 39.