Shaky Sri Lanka wary of Afghan challenge


Dinesh Chandimal plays a shot during a practice match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens stadium during the World T20 cricket tournament in Kolkata on March 14, 2016.

Rex Clementine reporting from Calcutta

Faced with on and off the field adversaries, defending champions Sri Lanka will be cautious against qualifier Afghanistan as they begin their title defence in the World T-20 at Eden Gardens here in Calcutta today.

During the Asia Cup, the prelude to World T-20, Sri Lanka managed just one win against lowly United Arab Emirates and then lost to Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to make an early exit in the tournament. The horrible run saw world’s number one ranked team being knocked down to number eight in a matter of just six weeks.

Selectors took corrective measures by handing over the captaincy to Angelo Mathews and making a couple of changes to the squad, but there was no major change in results as the Sri Lankans lost both their warm-up games to New Zealand and Pakistan in the lead up to the World T-20.

The last time Sri Lanka met Afghanistan was during the ICC World Cup in Dunedin in February 2015 and they were given a massive scare. On that occasion, defending a total of 233, the Afghans removed both openers for ducks and a major upset looked on the cards as Sri Lanka were reduced to 54 for four. But veteran Mahela Jayawardene showed his class batting under pressure and his century along with some big hitting by Thisara Perera helped Sri Lanka to cross the line with ten balls to spare.

"The last time we played them, we really tested them," Asghar Stanikzai, the Afghan captain told journalists yesterday. "The experience of Jayawardene took the game away from us on that occasion. But the good thing is that players like Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara are not there anymore and hopefully we can put them under pressure here," he added.

Mathews too warned about Afghans, who qualified for the tournament with wins over Scotland, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong.

"They are very tough. The last time we met, it was a too close game. They have really fought hard against us," Mathews explained.

"As defending champions, we are not looking too far ahead. We are aware that we haven’t done too well. We just want to win tomorrow’s game," Mathews added.

Sri Lanka will take a call on strike bowler Lasith Malinga today after a training session. "We are yet to get confirmation on Lasith from the physio, He will have a net session tomorrow and then we will take a call.

He bowled a couple of overs today with a short run up and he has to bowl with his full run up tomorrow and then we will see," Mathews explained.

After the impact created by spin bowlers during India’s game against New Zealand where the Kiwis stunned the hosts with the excessive use of spin, left-arm spinner Rangana Herath has gained lot of attention. Herath played a decisive role during Sri Lanka’s World T-20 triumph two years ago, but since then has been sparingly used in the shortest format of the game due to his dodgy knees. But when it comes to crunch games, Sri Lankans look up to Herath.

"We want him to be our attacking spinner. He is very experienced and our main spinner. We want him to try and take wickets. If he wants to contain he can do that too. He has the experience to adapt well," Mathews said.

Sri Lanka (From): Angelo Mathews (Captain), Dushmantha Chameera, Tillekeratne Dilshan, Dinesh Chandimal (Wicketkeeper), Rangana Herath, Shehan Jayasuriya, Nuwan Kulasekara, Chamara Kapugedara, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Thisara Perera, Sachithra Senanayake, Dasun Shanaka, Milinda Siriwardene and Lahiru Thirimanne.

Afghanistan (From): Asghar Stanikzai (Captain), Amir Hamza, Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Hamid Hassan, Karim Sadiq, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad, Najibullah Zadran, Noor Ali Zadran, Rashid Khan, Samiullah Shenwari, Shafiqullah, Shapoor Zadran and Usman Ghani.

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