Cricket experts are in splits. They are having a tough time having to choose between Afghanistan and Sri Lanka as the teams are scheduled to meet at the Cardiff stadium on Tuesday at the ICC Cricket World Cup stage.
Four years ago, it was a no brainer. Sri Lanka were favourites not only of a match or two but as contenders to lift the World Cup trophy.
Things have changed rather drastically for Sri Lanka especially after the humiliation they received from New Zealand – a defeat by 10 wickets with over 200 balls remaining. And how can one forget what happened at the Asia Cup last year, where Afghanistan knocked Sri Lanka out of the tournament.
To put things into perspective, since World Cup 2015, Afghanistan has won more One Day International contests than Sri Lanka despite participating in 22 lesser games.
Although Sri Lankan skipper Dimuth Karunaratne is being quite practical about his side’s chances in this World Cup, he hopes to see a better performance from his team against Afghanistan.
However, Sri Lanka has never won a game at the Sophia Gardens, Cardiff in the six matches they have played there. Their sixth defeat came against New Zealand, earlier in this mega tournament.
On the other side are Afghanistan; a team which fights; a team which works hard in silence; a team which is constantly improving. Against Australia, in their opening clash, Afghanistan tried to hit out of the way. However, in 50-overs cricket, that is seldom a successful approach and although Afghanistan was impressive in patches, they will need to play good cricket for 100 overs to clinch a win against a top side.
The match is also under rain threat as it is expected to rain in Cardiff when the teams are scheduled to meet.
However, keeping all that aside, it is during this World that Afghanistan’s ODI Ranking and reputation will be tested against top-rated ODI sides and at international cricket’s most coveted tournament. As both the teams meet for this game, Afghanistan’s Rahmat Shah — who is their leading run scorer since 2015 — and their wrist spinners will be in the spotlight.
As far as Sri Lanka are concerned, the wise old head of Angelo Mathews needs to produce an innings of substance here. Lasith Malinga is fit and available for selection while Nuwan Pradeep might get a spot in the Playing 11 after missing out on the New Zealand game.
A fascinating contest is on the cards then from the Sophia Gardens, Cardiff. The action begins from 3:00 PM (IST).
Afghanistan: Gulbadin Naib (c), Aftab Alam, Asghar Afghan, Dawlat Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Hazratullah Zazai, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Mujeeb ur Rehman, Najibullah Zadran, Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Rashid Khan, Samiullah Shinwari
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Dhananjaya de Silva, Nuwan Pradeep, Avishka Fernando, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Mendis (wk), Jeevan Mendis, Kusal Perera (wk), Thisara Perera, Milinda Siriwardana, Lahiru Thirimanne, Isuru Udana, Jeffrey Vandersay