Sri Lanka seal a nail-biter to set date with India in Super Fours

By our correspondent
LAHORE: Sri Lanka conquered Afghanistan by just two runs to qualify for the Super Fours of the Asia Cup here at the Gaddafi Stadium on Tuesday.
Set to score 292 in 37.1 overs Afghans were folded for 289.
Sri Lanka’s challenging total was built on Kusal Mendis’s impressive innings of 92 runs off 84 balls and a vital 64-run partnership between Dunith Wellalage and Maheesh Theekshana.
As the game approached its climax, Afghanistan found themselves needing just three runs on the final ball to secure qualification. However, their incoming batsman, Mujeeb Ur Rehman, attempted a boundary but only managed to slice the ball to Samarawickrama, resulting in a catch. Although Afghanistan’s hopes of qualifying were dashed, they were still just three runs away from winning the match. Luck, however, favored Sri Lanka as Dhananjaya de Silva claimed the wicket of Fazalhaq Farooqi LBW on fourth ball of the 38th over, propelling Sri Lanka into the next stage, where they would face India.
A crucial partnership between Hashmatullah Shahidi and Mohammad Nabi had paved the way for Afghanistan, but once this partnership was broken, their incoming batsmen struggled to meet the desired target.
Captain Hashmatullah Shahidi and Mohammad Nabi played vital roles for Afghanistan, amassing 80 runs in just 47 balls. Their partnership featured powerful hitting, with both batsmen reaching their 16th career half-centuries. Nabi’s innings of 65 off 32 balls included five sixes and six fours. However, Nabi’s dismissal ended this critical partnership.
Subsequently, Shahidi and Karim Janat continued to put pressure on Sri Lanka’s bowlers, but their partnership was broken when Janat was dismissed for 22. Afghans had a further blow when Shahidi’s valiant effort of 59 runs in 66 balls included a six and three boundaries came to an end.
In the later stages, Afghanistan turned to Najibullah Zadran and Rashid Khan, who played a crucial innings of 39 runs together. Najibullah contributed 23 runs off 15 balls, while Rashid remained unbeaten with 27 runs.
Sri Lanka’s Kasun Rajitha was the star bowler, securing four crucial wickets and leaving Afghanistan’s top batting order in disarray. Rajitha dismissed Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Ibrahim Zadran, and Rahmat Shah, with the latter showing some resilience by scoring 45 runs off 40 balls. Gulbadin Naib contributed an important 22 runs before becoming the victim of Matheesha Pathirana. The partnership between Nabi and Shahidi then propelled Afghanistan’s chase.
In the end, Kasun Rajitha took four wickets, while Dunith Wellalage and Dhananjaya de Silva claimed two wickets each, with Maheesh Theekshana and Matheesha Pathirana taking one wicket apiece.
In this crucial Asia Cup encounter, Sri Lanka had a promising start to their innings after winning the toss, with their opening partnership producing 63 runs in 10.2 overs before the first wicket fell. Dimuth Karunaratne and Pathum Nissanka were displaying patience at the crease, but in the 11th over, Karunaratne lost his wicket, giving an easy catch to Mohammad Nabi off the bowling of Gulbadin Naib after scoring 32 runs from 35 balls.
Nissanka continued to contribute to the score until it reached 80, but his innings was halted at 41 when he was caught at point by Najibullah Zadran off Naib’s bowling. Sri Lanka suffered another setback when Sadeera Samarawickrama was dismissed for just three runs.
It was then that Kusal Mendis took charge of the innings and played with authority, accumulating 92 runs before being run out in the 40th over. He formed a crucial 102-run partnership for the fourth wicket with Charith Asalanka, providing stability to the Sri Lankan innings.
However, Asalanka was caught and bowled by Rashid Khan, which triggered a mini-collapse in the Sri Lankan batting order. Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Mendis, and Dasun Shanaka lost their wickets in succession, bringing Afghanistan back into the game.
But Dunith Wellalage and Maheesh Theekshana held their ground and put on 64 runs for the eighth wicket, further boosting Sri Lanka’s total. Although the run rate slowed at one point, the late partnership, with Wellalage remaining unbeaten on 33 and Theekshana contributing 28, helped Sri Lanka post a competitive score.
Gulbadin Naib was the standout bowler for Afghanistan, taking four wickets for 60 runs, while Rashid Khan claimed two wickets for 63 runs, and Mujeeb ur Rehman added one to his tally.
Dasun Shanaka, Sri Lanka’s captain, made a crucial decision by opting to bat first, and both teams fielded unchanged sides for the match.

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