Kasun Rajitha’s fiery four-wicket haul and Dhananjaya de Silva’s unbridled two wickets in the crucial 38th over helped Sri Lanka sneak home by two runs against a spirited Afghanistan side to book a Super 4 spot in the Asia Cup 2023 at the match played at Gaddafi Stadium here on Tuesday. 

The equation for Afghanistan was pretty straightforward at the innings break when Sri Lanka had set a target of 292 — to chase it in 37.1 overs or less or miss out on a spot in the Super 4 stage of Asia Cup 2023. 

Sri Lanka almost lost it but they kept their cool to clinch a place in Super Fours in a super thriller in Lahore.  Chasing 292, Afghanistan were dealt a major blow as star opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz was removed from the pitch with a score of 4 by Kasun Rajitha. A miscue from Gurbaz launched the ball high in the air which landed straight into the hands of Kusal Mendis.

The right-handed batter Gulbadin Naib then came out to bat and opened his account with back-to-back two fours off Rajitha’s delivery. Rajitha then struck again to send both Afghanistan openers back to the pavilion with the wicket of Ibrahim Zadran. 

Gulbadin’s relentless stay at the crease was cut short by Matheesha Pathirana for 22 runs.  Hashmatullah Shahidi took the charge, orchestrating a remarkable run chase with a relentless barrage of boundaries. Shahidi then brought up his fifty. 

Mohammad Nabi and Shahidi kept Afghanistan in the race for a Super 4 berth as the duo stitched an 80-run partnership. Nabi scored the fastest ODI fifty for Afghanistan off 24 balls. 

Nabi and Shahidi slammed Sri Lanka bowlers all around the ground with the help of their aggressive batting. The balance had tilted Afghanistan’s way during the scintillating partnership between Nabi and Shahid, the duo adding 80 runs off a mere 47 balls. Nabi’s stay at the crease was cut short by Theekshana for 65. 

Having reached 200 in just 26 overs with the loss of just four wickets, Afghanistan needed 92 runs in 11.1 overs to seal their Super 4 spot and it seemed possible with Nabi leading the charge.  

After aggressively slamming the Sri Lanka bowler in the stands, Shahidi’s innings at the crease came to an end as the batter fell prey to Dunith Wellalage after scoring 59. Najibullah Zadran played a fiery knock of 23 off 15. However, he handed a catch to Dushan Hemantha. 

Rashid Khan and Najibullah Zadran batted well to bring the game down to the wire, but Mujeeb holed out off Dhananjaya de Silva with three needed off one ball to seal qualification. When it looked like they could seal a berth in Super Four, Sri Lanka struck again as Dhananjaya de Silva gave Afghanistan a heartbreak as he bagged two wickets in the 38th over. The off-spinner dismissed Fazalhaq Farooqi to enable Sri Lanka to win by two runs.

Earlier, Kusal Mendis’ fighting 92 and a late partnership of 64 runs by Dunith Wellalage and Maheesh Theekshana helped Sri Lanka post a fine total of 291/8 against Afghanistan in their Asia Cup 2023 match here at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Tuesday. 

Mendis scored the highest for Sri Lanka with 92 runs off 84 while Pathum Nissanka played a knock of 41 runs. For Afghanistan, Gulbadin Naib was the wrecker-in-chief as he bagged four wickets while star spinner Rashid Khan scalped two wickets. Sri Lanka skipper Dasun Shanaka won the toss and opted to bat against Afghanistan. 

Brief score: Sri Lanka 291/8 (Kusal Mendis 92; Pathum Nissanka 41; Gulbadin Naib 4-60) vs Afghanistan 289  (Mohammad Nabi 65, Hashmatullah Shahidi 59; Kasun Rajitha 4-79).

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