A downpour in the afternoon delayed the start by 15 minutes, with floodlights shining bright even before the game began. But Kusal Mendis shone even brighter, setting the stadium ablaze with a whirlwind knock.
But a combination of Afghanistan spinners spelling doom into Sri Lanka’s batting after Mendis’ retirement, a fluent partnership between Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Rahmat Shah, and an untimely weather intervention meant Sri Lanka stand-in captain’s knock ended up in a losing cause.
Chasing a revised target of 257 in 42 overs - after rain interrupted a chase of 295 with Afghanistan at 118 for one in 20.5 overs - Gurbaz (119, 92b, 8x4, 9x6) and Rahmat’s (93, 82b, 10x4, 3x6) power-hitting matched Mendis’ effort to see the team through. The duo’s partnership of 212 runs off 152 balls, before both simultaneously retired, meant Afghanistan romped home with 23 balls to spare.
Despite the duo’s effort, it was Mendis (158, 87b, 19x4, 9x6) - who took over the captaincy with Dasun Shanaka unavailable due to a sore shoulder - whose knock could not be overshadowed at the Assam Cricket Association stadium.
The right-hander was in superb touch ever since he replaced Dimuth Karunaratne. His straight punches and cover-drives off the pacers were a treat to watch and once spin was introduced, he effortlessly cleared the shorter side of the ground. That he raced to his fifty in 31 balls, 100 in 59 and 150 in 84 is testimony to his form.
Sadeera Samarawickrama played second fiddle, scoring only 32 of the 158 runs he and Mendis added for the third wicket. At 240 for two, Sri Lanka was flying and Mendis decided to retire out, hoping for the lower-order to get match practice.
From there on, Sri Lanka lost the last seven wickets for a meagre 54 runs, with veteran Mohammad Nabi wreaking havoc with his offspin.
Later in the chase, Gurbaz and Rahmat displayed their range-hitting at will to serve a stern warning for the favourites.
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