Sri Lanka seek batting boost in must-win game against Afghanistan

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Abu Dhabi: As much as winning, losing can become a habit too. Sri Lanka, who have won just nine and lost 29 ODIs since winning the tri-series in the West Indies in 2016-17, are paddling through one such barren phase. The island nation started the Asia Cup 2018 yet again with a defeat as they slid to a 137-run loss against Bangladesh in Dubai. Sri Lanka would look to breathe life into their lacklustre performances when they take on Afghanistan in what turns out to be a must-win tie for them on Monday (September 17).

Despite starting the tournament on a losing note, Sri Lanka would take a few positives from the game. Lasith Malinga, the team’s lynchpin, who was returning to the ODI XI after a gap of one year, bowled zestful spells in the heat to bag four wickets. He blended a slew of bumpers with fuller length deliveries and slower ones to keep the opposition in check. Suranga Lakmal, his bowling partner, also bowled with good control.

On the flip side, Sri Lanka would hope for a better show from their batsmen in their second game. Sri Lanka’s struggles with the bat can be capsulised by the fact that Upul Tharanga top-scored for them with 27, while only two other batters crossed the 20-run mark against Bangladesh. Sri Lanka’s think tank also would be worried about their inability to provide the finishing touches with the ball in hand. In their first game, they allowed the opposition to recover from 203 for 8 to post a respectable score of 261.

Afghanistan, their opponents, have been in fine form in the recent past, having won a couple of ODI series against Ireland and Zimbabwe, and they also emerged triumphant in the World Cup Qualifiers. Rahmat Shah, Mohammad Shahzad, Najibullah Zadran and Mohammad Nabi have all made 300-plus runs this season in ODIs. Shah was also in good nick in the series versus Ireland, where he put up decent performances on tricky surfaces.

On the bowling front, the spin twins, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rehman, will be expected to make an impact on slow tracks in the UAE. Sharafuddin Ashraf and Nabi form the rest of the spin quartet. With the pacemen finding some seam movement under lights, Afghanistan may be tempted to bolster the pace attack by picking both Aftab Alam and Wafadar.

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