Farooqi and spinners set up Afghanistan’s rout of Sri Lanka

Afghanistan 106 for 2 (Gurbaz 40*, Zazai 37, Hasaranga 1-19) beat Sri Lanka 105 all out (Rajapaksa 38, Farooqi 3-11, Nabi 2-14) by 8 wickets

A thrilling all-round performance saw Afghanistan crush Sri Lanka by eight wickets in the first game of the 2022 Asia Cup. The bowlers set the foundation, reducing Sri Lanka to 5 for 3, with Fazalhaq Farooqi responsible for most of the carnage. Despite a brief resurgence in the middle thanks to a 44-run stand between Danushka Gunathilaka and Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Afghanistan struck back hard, running through the lower order.

Naveen-ul-Haq, Mujeeb ur Rehman and Mohammad Nabi were all among the wickets, and despite late resistance from Chamika Karunaratne, the 105 Sri Lanka managed was woefully inadequate. It took the Afghan openers just 10.1 overs to take it down; Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Hazratullah Zazai racked up 83 runs in the Powerplay itself effectively ending the game as a contest right there.

The first three overs
There was chaos and controversy to kick off the Asia Cup, but by the time the fog of the first three overs lifted, Afghanistan had a vice-like grip on the game. Farooqi struck twice in two balls in the first over to remove Kusal Mendis and Charith Asalanka, but it was Pathum Nissanka’s wicket that raised eyebrows. The umpire deemed the batter to have nicked off to the keeper, only for Sri Lanka to review immediately. In a baffling bit of third umpiring, the on-field umpire was advised to stand by his decision despite UltraEdge showing almost no deviation. It caused consternation among the Sri Lanka camp, but Afghanistan had the rub of the green. Over the next three hours. They made it count.

Rajapaksa revival
There was the briefest glimmer of hope for Sri Lanka just after that destructive start that saw them lose three early wickets. It came in the form of a classy little stand between Gunathilaka and Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa lifted Naveen ul Haq over the mid-off boundary for a glorious six to kickstart that passage of play, with his team-mate joining in later in the over. The real carnage took place in the final Powerplay over that saw the pair plunder four boundaries in an over that cost 20 to undo some of the damage that had happened early on. But when Gunathilaka sent a reverse sweep straight down deep cover’s throat, things began to unravel for Sri Lanka once more. Rajapaksa soldiered on briefly, but was ultimately done by some shocking running that saw two wickets fall in that fashion in two balls.

Karunaratne’s resistance
It was probably much too late by the 15th over, but Karunaratne wasn’t to know that. Farming the strike adroitly for the final five overs, he almost single-handedly added 30 to the final partnership to ensure Sri Lanka recovered from 75 for 9 to post a three-figure total. It was an engrossing period of play in many ways, with almost every delivery struck to a deep fielder and ending up as a dot ball. There were occasions where the running might have been sharper, but after two run-outs that could only be described as brain freezes, Karunaratne wasn’t taking any chances.

A low-scoring game in the UAE against Sri Lanka has the potential to become a horrid second-innings scrap, but Gurbaz wasn’t having any of it. In a whirwind of a cameo, he would thump 40 off 18 balls to help Afghanistan rack up 83 in the Powerplay, breaking the back of the chase before Sri Lanka’s spinners could even get into their work. Matheesha Pathirana and Maheesh Theekshana were singled out for punishment, tonked for 16 and 21 respectively in a no-holds barred display of pure power.

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