Defending champions, Sri Lanka won a nail-biting encounter against Afghanistan, keeping their hopes alive in the Asia Cup. Playing their last match of the group stage, it was a do-or-die match for both teams. Afghanistan, who faced defeat against Bangladesh in their last match were desperate for a victory if they had to enter the Super 4s. According to calculations they had to chase the target in less than 39 overs if they had to surpass Sri Lanka’s NRR.
Winning the toss, Sri Lanka decided to bat first and got to a decent start. They were sitting comfortably at the score of 63/1 after the first powerplay. Two more wickets fell in quick succession, with Gulbadin Naib dismissing Samarawickrama and Karunaratne. Kusal Mendis’ anchor innings of 92 runs helped Sri Lanka set a target of 292 runs. The Afghan bowlers did a good job with Rashid and Mujeeb dismissing three Lankan batsmen, and Gulbadin Naib taking four wickets. According to Afghanistan head coach, Jonathan Trott, the team had to chase the target in 37.1 overs to qualify for the Super 4s.
The second innings of the match started with disappointment for the Afghan fans, as a brilliant spell from Kasun Rajitha and Matheesha Pathirana dismissed the top three batsmen with just 50 runs on the board. From 50/3 in 8.1 overs to 234/5 in 31 overs, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, and Mohammad Nabi brought the batting side back into the game. With 58 runs in 36 balls and five wickets in hand to qualify, Sri Lanka was losing grip on the game.
As the match progressed, the pressure on both teams increased, as the next 3 wickets fell for 40 runs. In this nail-biting encounter, Rashid Khan’s 27 runs off 16 balls almost helped his team qualify. The contest went down the wire, with Afghanistan at 289/8 in 37 overs. The batting team had one more ball left three runs to get for qualification. Dhanajaya with the ball in hand and Mujeeb on strike, the bowler bowled a loosener, Mujeeb slogging it, making a decent contact but the ball did not have the elevation that was needed. Samarawickrama takes an easy catch at long-on.
The Afghans still had a chance to qualify because of a simple calculation and communication error from the head coach, the batsmen were unaware of the possibility. If the batters had been able to score 295 off 37.4 overs, they would have surpassed Sri Lanka in terms of NRR. Although they batted to 37.4 overs, they were bowled out for 289 and lost the match. An under-pressure Sri Lankan team snatched victory from the jaws of Afghanistan.