A lacklustre Sri Lanka spiralling from one defeat to another is staring at a first-ever loss at the hands of Afghanistan in this Asia Cup 2018, Group B fixture. History and form count for little in matches of prominence, but Sri Lanka are staring down an endless barrel of defeats. That was on display in full force, as the Lions were routed in a 137-run defeat at the hands of Bangladesh in the tournament opener. A Lasith Malinga blitz (4/23) threatened to derail Bangladesh, but Sri Lanka were guilty of letting the grip loose at crucial junctures.
If a gritty Mushfiqur Rahim (144 off 150 balls) led the revival, a brave Tamim Iqbal playing with a fractured wrist to add 32 runs for the final wicket underlined their hunger to win.
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Sri Lankan showed none of that in their reply, as the batsmen appeared tentative and clueless in the 262-run chase. Upul Tharanga blazed at the start (27 off 16), but none of the batsmen took the responsibility of leading the chase.
That the bowlers Dilruwan Perera (29 off 44) and Suranga Lakmal (20 off 25) stitched the best partnership of the innings (27 runs) was an apt reflection of their batting woes.
All this would surely play into the hands of Afghanistan, who top the ‘cricket passion rankings’ – if ever there is one. The likes of leg-spinner Rashid Khan, all-rounder Mohammad Nabi and mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman make them a formidable side in these conditions tailor-made for them.
Batting remains a worry, though, as they lack a pivot to build their innings. Rahmat Shah, Asghar Afghan (formerly Stanikzai) and Nabi hold the key to their batting fortunes.
It is not often that Afghanistan go into a match as favourites – even if it is slightly. Given that there is so little turnaround time for Sri Lanka after that demoralising loss against Bangladesh, history could be made in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
Players to watch: The only positive for Sri Lanka from their opener was the form of Malinga, who bowled as if he had never been out of action. Can he continue where he finished in Dubai? No matter where Afghanistan play, it is their talisman Rashid that hogs the limelight. Will he be their fulcrum once again?
Stat attack: Sri Lanka have lost their last six ODIs played in UAE while Afghanistan have won four of their last five matches. The Lions have now lost 20 (77%) of their last 26 ODIs. And Afghanistan's special star Rashid Khan has 38 wickets in 15 matches in 2018, picking three or more wickets in eight.