After having two of its games washed out at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Afghanistan was desperate for some sunny and bright days in Brisbane. However, there’s no respite in sight as heavy showers have been forecast for Tuesday when Afghanistan squares off against Sri Lanka at the Gabba in a must-win T20 World Cup game.
Dark clouds hovered over the Ian Healy Oval on Monday afternoon as the Afghanistan team trained. Even though head coach Jonathan Trott was optimistic about the weather clearing up for the game to be held as per schedule, another washout is quite possible. Afghanistan has two points from three games so far, with a net run rate of -0.620, whereas Sri Lanka’s NRR is -0.890. In such a scenario, it’s a must-win game for both teams the race for a spot in the semifinals.
Sri Lankan bowlers Maheesh Theekshana and Kasun Rajitha provided early breakthroughs in the previous game against New Zealand. However, they failed to keep the momentum going as Glenn Phillips’ ton turned things around for New Zealand. Sri Lanka will want to take lessons from that and ensure that its fast bowlers make the most of the conditions in Gabba, where there will be bounce and carry.
All eyes on Nabi
The Afghanistan side lacks depth in the batting department. While it has three powerful big-hitters in openers Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz, and No. 3 Ibrahim Zadran, the middle-order has been inconsistent.
There are concerns over captain Mohammad Nabi’s form, too. In the Asia Cup, he scored 16 runs in four outings, claiming just three wickets. Even in the Caribbean Premier League, he grabbed six wickets and scored 36 runs for Jamaica Tallawahs. Though his unbeaten 41 and 51 in the warm-ups against Bangladesh and Pakistan had raised hopes of a revival of form, Nabi faltered again against England in Perth, scoring three runs and claiming a lone wicket.
Against an unsettled Sri Lankan side, which has failed to live up to the expectations following its Asia Cup triumph, Afghanistan will be relying on its spin duo Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Zadran to fire. The Afghans are currently at the bottom of Group 1 with a defeat and two washouts. But the team management believes that its spinners are capable of finding breakthroughs in any situation.
Before going down to New Zealand in the last outing, Sri Lanka managed to reach the 150-run mark against Australia, but even then, there are concerns over the performance of its top order batters. Pathum Shanaka, Kusal Mendis, and Dhananjaya de Silva — all seasoned campaigners — have had a hot-and-cold tournament so far. Mendis started off with a half-century against Ireland, but struggled in the following two games against Australia and New Zealand, with scores of 5 and 4. So, in a crunch situation, the top order needs to build on the innings and ensure that it sets the tone for the middle order to take things forward.
The two teams have met thrice in T20Is, with Sri Lanka winning on two occasions. But now, with the race for the last-four slot intensifying, the two teams have lots to play for, weather permitting.
Afghanistan: Mohammad Nabi (c), Fareed Ahmad, Naveen-ul-Haq Mureed, Najibullah Zadran, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Qais Ahmad, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Hazrat Zazai, Rashid Khan, Azmatullah Omarzai, Saleem Safi, Ibrahim Zadran, Darwish Rasooli, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Usman Ghani.
Sri Lanka: Dasun Shanaka (c), Charith Asalanka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dhananjaya de Silva, Chamika Karunaratne, Lahiru Kumara, Pramod Madushan, Kusal Mendis, Pathum Nissanka, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Maheesh Theekshana, Jeffrey Vandersay, Kasun Rajitha, Ashen Bandara, Asitha Fernando.
Match starts at 9.30am IST.