afghanistan cricket team
Afghanistan will next face Bangladesh (AFP Photo)

Afghanistan produced one of their most famous victories after they eliminated five-time champions Sri Lanka from the Asia Cup 2018 with a crushing 91-run win at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium on Monday. Sri Lanka thus became the fourth Test playing nation to have suffered defeat at the hands of Afghanistan in ODI history.

Chasing 250, Sri Lanka never looked settled against Afghan spinners as they played poor shots, ran poorly between the wickets and not one batsman showed intent to be bowled out for 158 in 41.2 overs.

The seeds of Sri Lanka’s second straight defeat at the continental tournament were sown in the first over of the chase when spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman (2/32) made sure Kusal Mendis recorded a second straight duck by having him trapped lbw.

Upul Tharanga and Dhananjaya de Silva did well to lead the recovery from the early shock but a moment of madness undid their hard work. With Tharanga keeping his eye on the ball, he failed to realise De Silva had called for a second run resulting in the latter being run out for 23. The duo had added 54 runs when disaster struck.

Afghanistan held back legspinner Rashid Khan till the 20th over and when he was introduced, made immediate impact by cleaning up Kusal Perera on 17 in his first over of the night. Upul Tharanga scored 36, innings highest, before a poor shot ended his knock. Another poor judgment resulted in a run out and Sri Lanka had lost half their side for just 108.

But captain Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera kept their hopes alive even as Afghanistan tightened the screws. But the departure of Mathews on 22 in the 35th over all but sealed their fate.

Gulbadin Naib (2/29) and Rashid Khan (2/26) got rid of the lower order in quick time to send Sri Lanka packing.

A measured half-century from Rahmat Shah was vital that took Afghanistan to a competitive 249. Openers Mohammad Shahzad and Ihsanullah Janat laid a solid platform after Afghanistan captain Asghar Afghan opted to bat in sweltering conditions. Shahzad was his usual self – taking on the new-ball bowlers Lasith Malinga and Dushmantha Chameera. He set the ball rolling in the very first over, flashing hard at a Malinga delivery that flew through the slip cordon for a four.

He then became more adventurous, upper-cutting Malinga off consecutive deliveries. The first went past a diving Akila Dananjaya at third man for a four and the second, an action replay of the first shot, dropped inches short of the same fielder, resulting in a single. However, captain Asghar wasn’t impressed with the theatrics.

Soon, he stepped out to the returning Dananjaya for the first six of the match but was trapped lbw in the same over on 34. Ihsanullah, though, was patient and then together with Rahmat kept the scoreboard ticking, not allowing Sri Lanka any opening.

Ihsanullah looked set for a fifty but Dananjaya, again, provided the breakthrough removing him on 45. Afghanistan lost Asghar (1) cheaply but Hashmatullah Shahidi joined Rahmat in frustrating the Sri Lankans further.

Rahmat went on to complete his half-century – his 12th in the format – reaching the landmark with a boundary. He fell after scoring 72 off 90 with five fours in it.

Thisara Perera then triggered a slide as Sri Lanka pulled things back in the death overs. From 190/3, Afghanistan slipped to 227/7.

Perera got rid of three batsmen in the final over of the innings as Afghanistan were bowled out for 249 and thus completed his fourth five-wicket haul on ODIs. He must have hoped to repeat the performance with the bat but it was to be Afghanistan’s night.

Brief Score: Afghanistan 249 (Rahmat Shah 72; Thisara Perera 5/55) beat Sri Lanka 158 (Upul Tharanga 36; Gulbadin Naib 2/29) by 91 runs