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Sunday, February 22, 2015

World Cup Report Match 12: Sri Lanka v Afghanistan

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Both sides of the Associates argument will use the result of the Sri Lanka and Afghanistan game as their example of why their belief is correct, following a match where the inexperienced team failed to grasp the opportunity offered by their more experienced but faltering opponents to gain an unexpected World Cup victory. Sri Lanka's victory on paper looks comfortable, the 'four wickets with 10 balls remaining' score line not illuminating the tension and terror of their dressing sheds as the match see-sawed over the length of the match.

None of this was really foreseen during Afghanistan's innings, who were (obviously) sent in by Sri Lanka's captain. Their innings progressed without real torment, their batting was steady throughout and showed a maturity that some would say went beyond their status as an Associate in the I.C.C. Every batsman in the top eight reached double figures, with Stanikzai scoring a good fifty, and Afghanistan managed to make 232 before being bowled out in the 50th over. It shouldn't have been enough, It didn't look as though it would be enough.
Sri Lanka walked out to bat. Thirimanne went first ball, triggered LBW. Dilshan departed seven balls later, also to the first ball he faced. It was the first time in ODI history that both opening batsmen had been dismissed for golden ducks. Then twice within the space of an over, Sangakkara should have been run out, which would have made the score 3/9 with two of Sri Lanka's big three back in the shed. As it turned out, the face painting warrior Hamid Hassan came on and bowled the great man anyway, leaving them at 3/18, and suddenly the game had turned.
Even so, to win Afghanistan had to bowl their opponents out, and it was only going to take cool and calm heads to win this game from a batting perspective. For this job there is no better man than Mahela Jayawardene, and he simply batted in an efficient manner. Firstly with Karunaratne and then with Matthews, he steered the Sri Lankan bating ships into calm waters, working and cajoling the ball around the field. Matthews appeared out of touch, making enormously hard work of his innings, but stuck with Jayawardene as he reached his hundred off 118 balls. It was a brilliantly boring unspectacular innings, the exactly required innings for the situation. It was a surprise then, when two balls later he guided Hassan straight down third man's throat. The previous over, Matthews' agony had been ended by running himself out when it was completely unnecessary - his 44 coming from 81 balls - and suddenly an easing win had turned into a mini crisis. 50 required off 48 balls, only four wickets in hand.

From here it was the inexperience of Afghanistan that cost them the match, and not the experience of Sri Lanka. Field settings were too deep in the circle, allowing singles. It became obvious that Mendis was only looking for singles, and that Perera was going to slog at everything come what may, except the last ball of the over, where he would try and pinch a single to retain the strike. Unfortunately, the bowlers were unable to maintain a length that could contain this stroke play, and the field settings were exposed each time they were changed. Luck favoured the sloggers, with two close reviews going their way, and the ball kept falling into the gaps. Eventually, it all played out in Sri Lanka's favour to win by that four wicket margin.

So how does the argument stack up? The I.C.C has already announced that there will only be 10 teams qualifying for the 2019 World Cup as against the 14 in this edition. The proponents of this will point to the fact that Associate teams such as Afghanistan are not up to this level of competition - if they were, they should have been able to close that game out and win. They believe that by excluding the Associates, the World Cup will be closer and harder fought, and a better spectacle. 
To me, that argument ignores what the World Cup should be about. How are teams such as Afghanistan expected to improve if they are unable to compete at an event like this? How will they learn to win close games like this against better opponents if they are unable to compete against better opponents? And probably the best three matches of this tournament so far have been the West Indies vs Ireland match, the United Arab Emirates vs Zimbabwe match, and this match. All three had Associate sides punching above their weight, and were closer, and harder-fought matches than ones such as Australia vs England, New Zealand vs England or West Indies vs Pakistan, all involving member nations. 
The first week of this tournament has been a celebration of the lesser nations giving a great account of themselves. The I.C.C should be immediately reconsidering their options for four years time, before it is too late.time slot meaning in tamil las vegas usa qt signal slot return value
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