Sri Lanka vs Afghanistan | Thursday 17 March | Eden Gardens | 16:00
Thursday’s only World T20 clash will pit the reigning champions, Sri Lanka up against an ever-improving Afghanistan side.
Can Angelo Matthews and his charges put a miserable Asia Cup behind them or will Afghanistan add to the Islanders’ woes?
To Win Match
Sri Lanka 2/7 | Draw 35/1 | Afghanistan 29/10
Although Sri Lanka come into this edition of the World T20 as reigning champions, following their six-wicket win over India in 2014’s final, they don’t look as though they’ll be in the mix come the business end of the tournament. Their disappointing showing at the recently concluded Asia Cup saw them win only one of their four games, and even that victory came against a very weak UAE side.
It doesn’t help that Angelo Matthews – who by his own admission is not mentally prepared – was thrust into the captaincy following Lasith Malinga’s resignation due to fitness problems. One thing that will work in his favour, however, is his experience in captaining the ODI and Test sides.
If Malinga is not fit to take part in the tournament, Sri Lanka are no hopers. The unorthodox slinger has for a long time been considered the best T20 bowler on the planet – this of course goes against the official ICC rankings which have always been a dodgy in my humble opinion. Malinga never travelled with the squad to India, instead opting to remain at home to work on his rehab following a knee injury. Whether or not he’ll be ready for the opening game of Sri Lanka’s tournament remains to be seen.
Looking through the squad, there seems to be a nice balance between youth and experience. Matthews, Malinga, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Rangana Herath will head up the brain’s trust while youngsters like Shehan Jayasuiya and Dushmantha Chameera will look to provide the x-factor.
The only thing I can see working in the Sri Lankan’s favour heading into their first game against Afghanistan, and indeed the rest of the tournament, is their experience in these sort of conditions. While it’s not a definite measure of whether a team will be successful or not – as India showed in their disastrous showing against New Zealand – it will help the side’s confidence.
The Afghans progressed to the Super 10 phase of the competition following a thumping win over Zimbabwe in the final game of the qualifiers. This was preceded by equally impressive wins over Hong Kong and a dangerous-looking Scottish team.
While their bowling attack isn’t much to write home about, their batting looks to be different class next to all of the other associate nations that took part in qualifying. In Mohammad Shahzad and Noor Ali Zadran, they have one of the most explosive opening partnerships at the tournament. Their middle and lower order doesn’t look too shabby either, with Samiullah Shenwari and Mohammad Nabi both putting in some big performances during qualifying.
They’ve never triumphed against a full member nation at a flagship ICC event, however, they’ve often been paired with seam-heavy attacks on quicker surfaces. They played all three of their qualifying games at Nagpur which is probably the slowest, most spin-friendly wicket on the competition. Thursday’s encounter will see them enter the cauldron that is Eden Gardens, where the ball may well come on a bit quicker. How they adapt will be interesting to see.
Verdict: Tillakaratne Dilshan to top score for Sri Lanka 11/4
While I think that Afghanistan are in with a shout of winning this game, I’m not willing to stick my neck out and back them. Rather take Dilshan to top score for the Islanders. Since the retirement of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayewardene, the diminutive opener has stood head and shoulders above his colleagues. Back him at 11/4.