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Sri Lanka avoid Afghanistan scare to reach Asia Cup 2023 Super 4s

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LAHORE: Sri Lankan bowlers held their nerves calm to deny Afghanistan a miraculous run chase and stormed into the Asia Cup 2023 Super 4s.

Afghanistan had to chase down 292 in 37.1 overs to make it to the next round and they came within touching distance to pull off a sensational feat, courtesy of quickfire knocks by their middle-order.

Afghanistan needed three off one delivery to secure the Super 4s berth but Mujeeb Ur Rahman fired the ball off Dhananjaya de Silva straight to Sadeera Samarawickrama at long-on.

However, Afghanistan still had a chance to make it to the Super 4s if they got to 295 in 37.4 overs but Fazalhaq Farooqi, the number 11, seemed unaware of the equation as he blocked the next two deliveries off de Silva before falling on the third.

With two wickets in four deliveries, Dhananjaya de Silva snatched a narrow two-run victory from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan got off to a dismal start to their pursuit as they were two down for 27 in five overs after both openers Rahmanullah Gurbaz (4) and Ibrahim Zadran (7) failed to score big.

Gulbadin Naib put on a brief partnership with Rahmat Shah before perishing in the ninth over to leave Afghanistan reeling at 50/3.

Rahmat was then joined by skipper Hashmatullah Shahidi and the pair knitted an anchoring 71-run partnership to stop the flow of wickets.

Rahmat and Shahidi had anchored the run chase but the required run rate surged drastically in the process.

The dire need to score big got the better of Shah, who misread the slower bowl from Kasun Rajitha and ended up spooning to Pathirana, who took a low well-judged catch.

Rahmat scored 45 off 40 deliveries, laced with five boundaries and a six.

Coming out to bat at number six with Afghanistan at 121/4 in 18.4 overs, Mohammad Nabi turned the game on its head with belligerent hitting.

The experienced all-rounded thrashed Sri Lankan bowlers all around the ground to score the fastest half-century for Afghanistan in ODI cricket, taking just 24 deliveries.

His fifth-wicket partnership with Shahidi had pushed Sri Lanka to the backfoot but Maheesh Theekshana claimed the prized wicket of Nabi in the 27th over to draw a much-needed breakthrough for Sri Lanka.

Nabi remained the top-scorer for Afghanistan in the all-important Asia Cup 2023 fixture with a 32-ball 65 which featured six boundaries and five sixes.

Spirited Afghanistan seemed unhurt by Nabi’s dismissal as Karim Janat (22) and Hashmatullah Shahidi kept scoring rapidly before Dunith Wellalage removed both batters in the same over.

Shahidi scored an anchoring 59 off 66 balls, hitting three boundaries and a six.

Following back-to-back blows, Najibullah Zadran and Rashid Khan took the reigns of Afghanistan’s run chase and kept their side in the hunt with crucial cameos.

The pair added 39 runs at a rapid pace for the eighth wicket before Kasun Rajitha removed Zadran to pose a major dent to Afghanistan’s onslaught. Zadran scored 23 off 15 balls.

Rashid, who scored 12 runs off Dunith Wellalage in the 37th over to bring it down to three off one, remained not out with a 16-ball 27.

Kasun Rajitha led the bowling attack for Sri Lanka with 4/79, followed by Wellalage and de Silva taking two each while Matheesha Pathirana and Theekshana made one scalp each.

Sri Lanka got off to a flying start after winning the toss with an opening stand of 63 runs between Pathum Nissanka and Dimuth Karunaratne before Gulbadin Naib picked three wickets in quick succession to reduce Sri Lanka to 86-3.

Nissanka played a 41-run knock in 40 balls, featuring six boundaries, while Karunaratne scored 32 off 35, laced with as many boundaries.

Kusal Mendis and Charith Asalanka then knitted a 102-run partnership in 99 balls for the fourth wicket to recover from the loss of three quick wickets before Rashid Khan removed Asalanka to give Afghanistan a much-needed breakthrough.

Subsequently, Mendis went back to the pavilion, missing out on his hundred in an unfortunate fashion as the ball ricocheted off Rashid’s hands as he spilt Dasun Shanaka’s catch off his own bowling.

Mendis scored a brisk 92 off 84 balls, laced with six boundaries and three sixes.

Shanaka was removed two balls later as Rashid Khan castled him, reducing Sri Lanka to 227-7.

Dunith Wellalage and Maheesh Theekshana then counter-attacked with a 64-run stand to lift Sri Lanka to finish at 291 in 50 overs.

Wellalage remained unbeaten at 33 off 39, while Maheesh Theekshan was bowled by Gulbadin Naib on the final ball of the innings after scoring 28 off 24.

Naib topped the bowling charts with figures of 4-60, while Rashid Khan contributed with two wickets.

Afghanistan is set to chase the total in 37 overs to qualify for the Super Four Stage of the Asia Cup 2023.

READ: Los Angeles Olympics 2028 ‘very likely’ to feature T20 Cricket

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