Match Report – SL vs AFG 1st ODI, February 09, 2024

Sri Lanka 381 for 3 (Nissanka 210*, Avishka 88, Fareed 2-79) beat Afghanistan 339 for 6 (Omarzai 149, Nabi 136, Madushan 4-75) by 42 runs

Pathum Nissanka’s historic double ton ensured Sri Lanka withstood a spirited Afghanistan counterattack to record a 42-run victory in the first ODI at Pallekele and take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.

That Afghanistan even got that close was down to a record 242-run stand between Azmatullah Omarzai and Mohammad Nabi, the second-highest sixth-wicket stand in ODI history. Omarazai ended on a 115-ball 149, while Nabi scored 136 off 130, as Afghanistan fell short but with their heads held high.

It would leave them wondering perhaps what might have been had there been more substantial contributions from their top order, but in a chase of the mammoth 382-run target set by Sri Lanka, many fell wanting in searching for a fast start.

Pramod Madushan did the most damage sending three of Afghanistan’s top four packing inside the first powerplay. The right-handed Rahmanullah Gurbaz and the left-handed Hashmatullah Shahidi were both done in by in-duckers, Madushan adept at moving the ball both ways – either through the air or off the surface.

In between the two he had Ibrahim Zadran caught at slip, and returned later in the game to break the stand between Nabi and Omarzai. He finished with figures of 4 for 75.

With Dushmantha Chameera accounting for the scalps of Rahmat Shah and Gulbadin Naib at the other end, Afghanistan found themselves staring down the barrel of an ignominious defeat, having stumbled to 55 for 5 midway through the ninth over.

But that was when the fightback began, as the pair of Omarzai and Nabi resolved early on to take the game as deep as possible.

With not much batting to follow, it was clear the pair could not take undue risks, nevertheless they found boundaries to ensure the run rate never got too out of hand. That said, it wasn’t until the 36th over that their scoring rate went beyond six an over, by which point the required rate was touching 12 an over.

By the 40th over the requirement was 137 needed off 60 deliveries, a tall ask but put into context by the fact that Sri Lanka had struck 120 in the same period.

In the end the asking rate proved too much, especially with Sri Lanka having multiple overs available from each of their frontline bowlers.

It also put into perspective the batting effort put in by the Lankans, particularly the outstanding Nissanka, whose 210 had come off just 139 deliveries.

Avishka Fernando, with a run-a-ball 88, was the next highest scorer, as he and Nissanka put on a 182-run opening stand – Sri Lanka’s first century opening stand in nine innings, and just the third to hit double digits in that period. But that was just the start of Afghanistan’s misery.

The visitors, who had opted to go with a four-strong seam attack, were left to rue their decision to bowl first having won the toss, with conditions proving ideal for batting. After a subdued start in the opening five in which just 22 runs were scored, Nissanka began to let loose.

There was a subdued period through the middle overs when Nabi was rifling through his overs, but at the start and the death the Afghan bowlers were at Nissanka’s mercy.

Omarzai was the first to feel the heat, taken for back-to-back boundaries through midwicket and then cover. Two overs later Fareed Ahmad was taken for 19, inclusive of two fours and a six – the latter off a free hit. Ahmad went for a further 17 in his next over, Avishka doing the brunt of the damage on that occasion, as Sri Lanka raced to 90 by the end of the 10th over.

The scoring tapered from there on, the occasional flurry of boundaries serving to keep the scoring rate hovering around the seven an over mark. It took a scorching grab from Hashmatullah Shahidi at backward point to bring an end to the opening stand, as Avishka flayed a wide one hard to his right.

Kusal Mendis’ entry saw more of the same, as he scrounged around for a 31-ball 16 before skying a miscued shot after coming down the track. The entry of Sadeera Samarawickrama, midway through the 36th over, though was the catalyst for Sri Lanka to shift gears, as his ability to rotate strike and find boundaries dovetailed perfectly with Nissanka, who was beginning to see the ball bigger with every stroke.

Their stand of 121 came off just 71 deliveries and scaled up in the final 10 overs. Of the 120 runs ransacked in this period Nissanka alone accounted for 76 of them.

Having earlier brought up his century with a single eased to deep cover, he brought up his 150 with a double past backward point. But those milestones were surrounded by belligerence.

Noor Ahmad was slog-swept twice in an over, with the wind, over deep midwicket. Fazalhaq Farooqi was clobbered down the ground, flicked over square leg, heaved over deep midwicket and paddled behind square. And when all else failed Afghanistan turned back to Fareed, but Nissanka would not err.

Having failed to get away a string of wide Fareed yorkers two overs prior, Nissanka squeezed the first such attempt in the final over past backward point to bring up his double ton. Two balls later he swung one high over square leg and then he crashed a drive to deep extra cover to finish the innings.

It was a knock worthy of winning any game, and so it proved in the end.

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