Led by Tillakaratne Dilshan’s 83 off 56 balls, Sri Lanka registered a six-wicket victory over Afghanistan in their opening game of the World T20. Despite Afghanistan putting up a challenging total of 153/7, Sri Lanka chased it down with seven balls to spare to announce their title defence.
Chasing a tricky total of 154, Sri Lanka got off to a brilliant start with Dinesh Chandimal smashing off-spinner Karim Sadiq for a four and a six off consecutive deliveries in the first over. His opening partner Dilshan made it even better in the third over first, by dispatching a length delivery off Dawlat Zadran for a maximum over the fine leg boundary before producing a dilscoop to make it two sixes off two balls.
With the game slowly slipping away from the Afghans, skipper Stanikzai introduced Mohammad Nabi into the attack, and the off-spinner delivered for his captain in the second ball of the over by removing Chandimal for 18.
In-form man Lahiru Thirimanne walked in and struggled through the first two overs as he took only one run off eight balls. At the other end, Dilshan continued to tick runs off the target as he brought in 10 runs in the next over from Nabi. Thirimanne finally managed a four in the next over by Khan, but Khan had the better as he induced an inside edge in the fourth ball that crashed into Thirimanne's stumps.
Thisara Perrera, who earlier shone with the ball with three wickets, came in and sent Karim Sadiq for a delightful six flat and straight down the ground. But he departed soon after run out by a great piece of fielding by Shahzad. While wickets were tumbling at the other end, 39-year old veteran Dilshan was showing the kids how T20 ought to be played – he reached his fifty, three balls after Perrera's dismissal and kept going with a four and six off the next two overs.
Just when things appeared over with only 41 runs needed off 29 balls, Kapugedera who looked in fine nick got out in an unfortunate manner as Dilshan's drive took a touch off Nabi's hand to crash into the stumps at the other end. But skipper Angelo Mathews, who walked in, slogged his way through the 17th over to bring the target to 23 off the last three overs. With Afghanistan leaking runs at the crucial moments, Dilshan and Mathews took the team home with seven balls to spare.
Earlier, Afghanistan skipper Asghar Stanikzai won the toss and opted to bat first with the pitch predicted to get slow and low. With Malinga still suffering from the knee injury that kept him out of most of the Asia Cup, Sri Lanka under new captain Angelo Mathews went in with youngster Dushmantha Chameera in place of the slinger.
With the ball struggling to reach Chandimal behind the stumps, Afghanistan got off to a slow start scoring just six runs off the first two overs. Mohammad Shahzad, who has been at his destructive best in the qualifiers, lost his patience and started flashing his bat at anything and everything. He perished trying to pull a length ball off Angelo Mathews, only to send it straight up in the air to give Chameera an easy catch at mid-on.
Unlike his partner, who departed after a reckless shot, Noor Ali Zadran played a mature innings at the other end, and along with the skipper, Stanikzai took the team forward scoring 36 runs in the powerplay. When it seemed that the Afghans were slowly moving upwards in their scoring rate, Rangana Herath delivered a sucker punch by cleaning up Noor Ali Zadran around his legs. Karim Sadiq arrived next and returned soon without disturbing the scorers after a seven-ball stint edging one from Thisara Perera to Chandimal behind the stumps. It was four down shortly as Mohammad Nabi also returned to the pavilion after Herath hit him in the pads right in front of the stumps.
With his team struggling at 51/4 in 11 overs, skipper Stanikzai took the responsibility on his shoulders and smashed Siriwardana for back-to-back sixes in the 13th over. Stanikzai and Samiullah Shenwari dished out similar treatment to Herath in the 15th over with a six apiece. Although Shenwari fell to Kulasekara in the 17th over after a 61-run partnership for the fifth wicket, Stanikzai took his team to a challenging total of 153/7 with the skipper scoring 62 off 47 balls.