Mohammad Nabi’s game changing 65 off 32 balls came to nothing as Sri Lanka pulled off a thrilling two-run win over an audacious Afghanistan to qualify for the Super4s of the Asia Cup in Lahore on Tuesday. Kusal Mendis’ high-quality 92 had pushed Sri Lanka to 291 for eight at the Gadaffi Stadium. Due to their inferior run rate, Afghanistan needed to chase down 292 in 37.1 overs and Nabi put them on the cusp of a famous win by smashing the fastest half-century by an Afghanistan batter in ODIs. In what turned out to be a riveting finish, the qualifying equation came down to 15 runs needed off seven balls and Rashid Khan increased the heart rate on either side of the dressing rooms by finding three fours off left-arm spinner Dunith Wellalage in the 37th over.
At that tense moment, Afghanistan needed three runs off the first ball of the 38th over with two wickets in hand.
However, Mujeeb Zadran’s wicket on the first ball of the over caused heartbreak in the Afghanistan camp with the disappointment written all over the players’ faces in the dressing room.
Such was the level of their dejection was that they were not alert enough to know that Afghanistan still had a chance if they hit a six of the following three balls of the 38th over.
Rashid was left stranded at the other end with Fazalhaq Farooqi trapped in front by Dhananjaya de Silva.
Following the close finish, Sri Lanka became the second team to qualify for Super4s from Group B after Bangladesh.
Afghanistan had lost their top three for 50 runs before Nabi produced an innings to remember while batting alongside skipper Hashamatullah Shahidi (59). His special effort comprised five sixes and half a dozen boundaries.
Earlier, Sri Lanka openers Pathum Nissanka (41) and Dimuth Karunaratne (32) gave a brisk start to the innings before being dismissed by medium pacer Gulbadin Naib.
Rather than the bowlers’ skills, it was more about the openers throwing their wickets away after a bright beginning.
Batting at No 3, Mendis then put Sri Lanka on course for a 300 plus total with a near flawless effort comprising six boundaries and three sixes.
The highlight of his sublime innings was the comfort with which he played the wily Rashid, who has built a reputation of foxing the best in the business.
Mendis had no issues picking his googlies and in the 26th over, worked him for three consecutive fours on the leg side. Later in Rashid’s spell, Mendis made good contact with the leggies’ googly to send it over long on for a maximum.
The Sri Lankan batter deserved a hundred but was run out in an unfortunate with the ball bursting through bowler Rashid’s hands to crash the stumps at the non-striker’s end, leaving Mendis well out of his ground.
His 102-run stand with Charith Asalanka (36 off 43) further consolidated for Sri Lanka but Afghanistan spinners removed Dhananjaya de Silva and skipper Dasuna Shanaka in a space of six balls to slow down the scoring rate.
In the end, Sri Lanka did well to get close to the 300-mark thanks to a 64-run stand for the eighth wicket between Maheesh Theekshana (28) and Dunith Wellalage (33 not out).
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