Mirpur: After steamrolling Bangladesh for their first major win over a Test-playing nation, giantkillers Afghanistan would look to continue their flirtation with cricketing history when they take on leaders Sri Lanka in their Asia Cup cricket match on Monday.
Buoyed by their spirited effort of taming Bangladesh by 32 runs in their own den at Fatullah, the gutsy team from the strife-torn nation would be eyeing another major upset against Sri Lanka.
The minnows would find it difficult to achieve further glory in the five-nation tournament against an increasingly stronger opponent Sri Lanka, who are sitting comfortably atop the points table with eight points after scoring back-to-back victories against Pakistan and India.
With two wins and a healthy runrate of +0.168, Sri Lanka have virtually assured themselves of a berth in the finals of Asia Cup, while Afghanistan’s hopes of further progress in the tournament would depend on the outcome of the match on Monday.
Afghanistan have four points from two matches with one win and a loss in their kitty. However, they don’t have anything to lose from this tournament as they are featuring in the Asia Cup for the first time in its history.
Should Afghanistan beat Sri Lanka, it would complete a fairytale journey for them in the tournament, giving the war-torn nation a desperately needed boost. Their victory over Bangladesh was wildly celebrated back home on the streets.
Afghanistan coach Kabir Khan has already sounded a warning bell for India and Sri Lanka, stating that they are “hungry to win" against them.
“All of our boys are very hungry to win a game or two here they know how much it will change the team. If we get one or two wins it will change the future of youngsters and the next ten years of Afghanistan cricket," Khan had told reporters after their loss to Pakistan in Fatullah.
Afghanistan had reduced Pakistan to 117 for six before they recovered well to win the match by 72 runs.
Sri Lanka boast of in-form batsmen Kumar Sangakkara and opener Lahiru Thirimanne at the top, while fiery pacer Lasith Malinga, who is fresh from his match-winning five-for against Pakistan, completes the bowling set up.
Having arrived in the country late January for a full series, Sri Lanka have been experiencing an extended taste of Bangladeshi conditions as they won the Test series 1-0, the Twenty20s 2-0 before a 3-0 sweep in the one-dayers.
Sri Lankan batting will have the calming influence of Sangakkara, who scored a match-winning century against India while opener Thirimanne also impressed with a fluent hundred against Pakistan in their tournament opener.
In opener Kusal Perera, who scored a maiden ODI century in Sri Lanka’s 3-0 win against Bangladesh the other day, Thirimanne will have a perfect partner as the duo will look to give their side a perfect start.
After recovering from a finger injury, Mehela Jayawardene, who batted at number four on Saturday, would like to get among runs after two successive failures.
Afghanistan, on the other hand, showed the stomach for a good fight against Bangladesh after stifling them for 222.
A shining effort with the bat from Asghar Stanikzai (90 not out) and Samiullah Shenwari (81) took Afghanistan to 254 for 6 after being put in to bat. They were once in trouble at 90/5, but Stanikzai and Shenwari got together and added 164 from 138 balls for the sixth-wicket partnership to take Afghanistan past 250.
For Afghanistan, Mohammad Nabi was the pick of the bowlers with figures of three for 44, while Shapoor Zadran and Hamid Hassan accounted for two wickets apiece and they would look to continue the good work.
Given the diverse strengths of the two sides, a good contest can be expected between two teams.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (c), Kusal Perera, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Thisara Perera, Chaturanga de Silva, Dinesh Chandimal, Sachithra Senanayake, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, Ajantha Mendis, Ashan Priyanjan and Dhammika Prasad.
Afghanistan: Mohammad Nabi (capt), Naowroz Mangal, Asghar Stanikzai, Dawlat Zadran, Fazal Niazai, Hamid Hassan, Hamza Hotak, Karim Sadiq, Mirwaiz Ashraf, Mohammad Shahzad, Najibullah Zadran, Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Samiullah Shenwari, Shapoor Zadran.