Sri Lanka faces Afghanistan test

Sri Lanka's batting has been largely inconsistent and Mathews would be banking on the seniors like Tillakaratne Dilshan, Dinesh Chandimal and Chamara Kapugedera to contribute meaningfully in getting the team out of the doldrums. In the absence of Malinga, Sri Lanka needs to find a strike bowler with the ability to turn things around in a format where a few quick wickets can alter the scenario.

Sri Lanka cicketers at a practice session in Kolkata on Saturday.   -  PTI

Wavering form and a waning success graph confront Sri Lanka as it embarks on defending the ICC World T20 title that it had won in style two years ago in Bangladesh. The island nation appears to be challenged more by diffidence in its own ranks rather than the real antagonist, which will be Afghanistan in the first Super 10 group 1 league outing here at the Eden Gardens on Thursday.

The recent diminution in its stature as a T20 outfit is reflected in the ICC rankings which put it at the threshold of dropping out of the elite position. Placed way below at number eight, Sri Lanka’s current ranking undermines its brilliant T20 record where it has been the runner-up twice (in 2009 and 2012) before winning the crown two years ago. Placed in an ironical situation where it is just a rung above qualifier Afghanistan, Sri Lanka needs a win to justify the slender superiority while defending the title.

Nurturing a team with lot of inexperienced players, Sri Lanka is yet to settle into a rhythm. This could be gauged by the fact that the islanders could win only four out the 14 matches they played since beating India in the 2014 final at Mirpur. The exit of stalwarts like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene seems to be hitting the team’s prospects quite hard. Added to this predicament is the recent stepping down of its highly successful pacer Lasith Malinga as the captain. Malinga is in the squad but is unlikely play with a knee injury, which got aggravated in the team’s unsuccessful Asia Cup venture.

Captain Angelo Mathews would be hoping to turn things around considering the team’s good record in the World T20. The team’s batting has been largely inconsistent and Mathews would be banking on the seniors like Tillakaratne Dilshan, >Dinesh Chandimal and >Chamara Kapugedera to contribute meaningfully in getting the team out of the doldrums. In the absence of Malinga, Sri Lanka needs to find a strike bowler with the ability to turn things around in a format where a few quick wickets can alter the scenario.

Afghanistan has come up as a team with the ability to upturn the favourites. Sri Lanka would be wary of this fact as Asghar Stanikzai’s men will be coming out hard looking for another upset win. Afghanistan has a good mix of spinners in its ranks like the young leg-spinner Rashid Khan, the seasoned >Samiullah Shenwari and former captain Mohammad Nabi, who can prove a handful in Eden Gardens which has a history of assisting turn.

The teams (from):

Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lahiru Thirimanne, Shehan Jayasuriya, Milinda Siriwardana, Chamara Kapugedera, Dasun Shanaka, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Dushmantha Chameera, Rangana Herath, Suranga Lakmal, Sachithra Senanayake, Lasith Malinga.

Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (capt), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Noor Ali Zadran, Usman Ghani, Mohammad Nabi, Karim Sadiq, Shafiqullah Shafiq, Rashid Khan, Ameer Hamza, Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Samiullah Shenwari, Najibullah Zadran, Hamid Hassan.

OPTA STATS

- Sri Lanka is the only side to progress through to the semi-finals in each of the last four Twenty20 tournaments.
- Afghanistan's Mohammad Shahzad has recorded 327 runs across his eight T20I innings during 2016; an average of 46.7.
- Sri Lanka has the best win percentage (67.7 per cent) of any side in this competition (completed matches only).