Sri Lanka makes it to the Super Fours despite a spirited chase from Afghanistan.

Sri Lanka’s bowling attack held firm to secure a thrilling victory.

Afghanistan nearly pulled off a spirited run-chase led by Mohammad Nabi’s scintillating innings, giving Sri Lanka a scare and threatening their Super Fours qualification. In a game of razor-thin NRR margins, Afghanistan’s backs were against the wall as Kusal Mendis’s breezy 92, following a solid start from openers Pathum Nissanka and Dimuth Karunaratne, forced Hashmatullah Shahidi’s team to do the unthinkable to stay alive.

The previously mentioned “unthinkable” – chasing down 292 in 37.1 overs – was exacerbated by Sri Lanka pacers striking three times during the PowerPlay. In a tough chase like this one, Kasun Rajitha snuffed out one of Afghanistan’s biggest hopes when Rahmanullah Gurbaz nicked one to Mendis behind the stumps in the third over. Ibrahim Zadran played one ball from Rajitha on to his stumps in the fifth over, leaving the chasing side two down for 27 runs.

Dasun Shanaka’s decision to use Dunith Wellalage’s left-arm spin lasted only one over as Gulbadin Naib sought to capitalize on the early wobble. Before Matheesha Pathirana arrived and trapped Naib leg before with his first ball, he and Rahmat Shah had two good overs worth 21 runs. Naib returned with a failed review in hand.

Afghanistan captain Hashmatullah Shahidi teamed up with Rahmat to keep his team alive, taking on Shanaka and Dhananjaya de Silva. The proactive start to this partnership reduced Afghanistan’s equation to 181 in 20 overs – a target often regarded as reachable on such a surface in the shortest format.

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, struck back in the 19th over, when Rahmat chipped his lofted shot to Pathirana at mid-on. Mohammad Nabi came on next and grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck, starting with a straight six down the ground off Wellalage and then getting two fours – one a streaky outside edge and the other an inside-out shot over extra cover – against Theekshana.

When Nabi welcomed Pathirana back into the attack with a six and a four off the first two deliveries, the game began to turn. Under pressure to nail his wide yorkers, the young pacer bowled three wides, conceding 20 runs in the over. Shanaka came on and tried a change of pace to coax a mishit out of Nabi, but it didn’t work, as the Afghanistan allrounder hit two fours and one six in the 19-run win.

Nabi reached a 24-ball half-century off Pathirana in the 25th over, Afghanistan’s fastest in ODI cricket. Shanaka then threw the ball to his strike bowler for the night, Ranjitha, who was also treated with contempt. Nabi hit a six off a short ball and then a slower one over extra cover for another in a 14-run victory. He dragged Afghanistan back into contention for Super Fours qualification, but he was caught at long-on in the 27th over for an incredible 65 off 32 balls.

The wicket was supposed to dampen Afghanistan’s chase, but it didn’t. Karim Janat came out swinging for the fences after Shahidi reached his second half-century. With Rashid Khan still to bat, the equation was reduced to 71 off 48 balls, still in very reachable territory. With 55 needed off 32 balls, he needed two more wickets to walk out.

Rashid and Najibullah Zadran threw their bats around, reducing the equation to 45 off 25 and 27 off 13, with the pressure shifting to Sri Lanka. Shanaka brought back Rajitha for the 37th over to calm things down, but Afghanistan turned that into a four and a six in the first three balls.

Rajitha bowled a good over, with Afghanistan needing 15 off 7 balls. Wellalage applied pressure to Rashid with two dot balls, but the star allrounder responded by whacking two boundaries and then getting the rub of the green for a third – an inside edge running down to the fine leg fence. When Mujeeb Ur Rahman holed out to long on, Afghanistan needed three points off one ball.

However, based on NRR calculations, Afghanistan had a chance if they could level the score (291) and then hit a four in 37.4 overs or a six in 38.1 overs. However, Afghanistan’s middle-order batters – No. 11 Fazalhaq Farooqi and Rashid – didn’t appear to be aware of this possibility, as Farooqi defended the next two balls and was out leg before the next, bringing a heartbreaking end to what was a valiant attempt to achieve the unthinkable.

Brief Scores: Afghanistan 289 in 37.4 overs (Mohammad Nabi 65, Hashmatullah Shahidi 59, Rahmat Shah 45, Rashid Khan 27*; Kasun Rajitha 4-79, Dhananjaya de Silva 2-12) defeated Sri Lanka 291/8 in 50 overs (Kusal Mendis 92, Pathum Nissanka 41, Charith Asalanka 36; Gulbadin Naib 4-60, Rashid Khan 2-63