What is qualifier Afghanistan strength in batting? About 52 percent feel that it is their big hitting. It is true too.
Unfortunately, the Afghans failed to fire in the first ten overs and managed to post 153 for 7, thanks to their skipper Asghar Stanikzai Stanikzai (62 off 47balls, 3x4, 4x6).
But it was not good enough as seasoned campaigner Tillakaratne Dilshan (56-ball 83 not out; 8x4, 3x6) guided Sri Lanka to a six-wicket win in the Super Ten Group 1 match at Eden Gardens on Thursday night. Dilshan showed a lot of character in dashing the Afghan hopes.
The 39-year-old was in good touch as he even executed his favourite Dilscoop for a six. Even as other Lankan batsmen struggled for runs, Dilshan stood tall to give Lanka a winning start to their campaign.
The Afghans fought hard but some poor fielding did not help their cause and Dilshan fittingly struck the winning stroke through the mid wicket boundary.
Earlier, Afghanistan were bailed out by Stanikzai and Samiullah Shinwari with a 61-run stand off 53 balls. In fact, Afghans got 102 runs in their last nine overs.
The 28-year-old Stanikzai walked in when Lankan bowlers were on top. The Afghan top order batsmen had a bad day in the office as they were bottled by the accurate Lankan bowlers and they failed to get any boundaries.
Stanikzai decided to go for big shots and he began with two big sixes off left-arm spinner Milinda Siriwardana. Shinwari, too, showed the urgency as he too indulged in big hitting.
The two stitched 61 runs in 5.3 overs and soon Afghan batting began to blossom. Shinwari made a quick-fire 14-ball 31 (3x4, 2x6). Stanikzai waged a brave battle and struck a helicopter six. He was dropped at 44 but he went on to post his career-best score of 62 (47 balls, 3x4, 4x6), breezing past his best of 55 scored against Scotland.
The Lankan bowlers were spot on in the first six overs. They strangled the enterprising Afghanistan batsmen. Shahzad Mohammadi, who has made merry with the bat in the qualifying matches, was bottled up by some intelligent bowling.
Skipper Angelo Mathews and Nuwan Kulasekara did not give the width or the length to the openers. Shahzad, after hitting a single boundary, departed in the third over as he scooped a catch to mid-on off Mathews.
It was left to Noor Ali Zadran to break the shackles and in one over he struck two fours off Kulasekara. But the Lankans dominated the power play, conceding just four boundaries as Afghans struggled to 36 for 1 in six overs.
Noor hit one more boundary before he was cleaned by veteran left arm Rangana Herath. But Afghans lost their way. With Lankans bowling tightly, Afghan batsmen were clueless. They were caught napping.
Karim Khan edged behind while former captain Mohammad Nabi was plumb in front to Herath. Truly, after Stanikzai and Samiullah show, left-hander Najib Zadran hit a six (over covers) and a four in the last over off Kulasekara to take Afghans past the 150-mark.