Big picture – Teams look to capitalise on momentum
While this World Cup has only belatedly started offering up some nail-biters, it’s been rather more generous in terms of unexpected results. As a result, despite the sides currently occupying the top-four spots in the points table being the likeliest to make it through to the knockouts, there’s a cluster of teams just below them ready to capitalise on any potential slip-ups.
For Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, three wins from their final four games in the league stage will leave them on ten points, which would give them a genuine shot at a semi-final berth. But of those four games, Afghanistan will face Australia and South Africa, while Sri Lanka still have to take on India and New Zealand.
This is what makes Monday’s game in Pune all the more spicy; a win for either side leaves a margin for error in at least one of those “tougher” games, lose and those fledgling semi-final hopes become considerably dimmer.
Both sides also come into this fixture with some form. Well, as much form as sides that have lost three of their five games can be in.
Afghanistan WLWLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka WWLLL
In the spotlight – Rashid Khan and Pathum Nissanka
It’s no secret that Rashid Khan‘s effectiveness in ODIs has not quite been at the same level as that in T20Is. So far, across five games, he’s picked up six wickets, not exactly stats to set the world alight, but then again, this has been predominantly a batters’ tournament so far.
However his record against Sri Lanka provides more cause for optimism. His 11 wickets across six innings at an average of 18.54 is only bettered by his record against Zimbabwe and Ireland among Full-Member nations; in those six innings, he’s gone wicketless just once. Sri Lanka also have a soft underbelly, one that Afghanistan exploited once already in the warm-ups, and Rashid will be key to testing that brittle middle and lower order once more.
Masking those middle-order jitters for Sri Lanka has been a rather more consistent top order, with Pathum Nissanka emerging as an unlikely leader. Indeed, if there was an award for most improved cricketer in the Sri Lankan ranks, you wouldn’t have to look much beyond Nissanka.
Having debuted as a Test grafter in 2021, he was fast-tracked into the white-ball setup during a period when SLC was in the midst of a youth-driven overhaul and were taking a more long-term approach to squad building. This meant the selectors stuck with him through his lean start to ODIs – he scored 86 runs across his first nine innings – but he has paid that faith back in spades. It was at the end of that barren run that he was promoted to regular opener, and his 36 innings since have brought 13 fifties and three centuries. His average in ODIs now stands at 39.97, and in this World Cup he’s kicked that up a notch, racking up four consecutive fifties at 60.75. More importantly, he has begun to show signs of developing a more aggressive approach – his strike rate in the tournament is 91.35, up from 83.64 prior to the start.
Afghanistan have had a six-day break since their last game and are well rested. Expect an unchanged XI.
Afghanistan (possible): 1 Rahmanullah Gurbaz, 2 Ibrahim Zadran, 3 Rahmat Shah, 4 Hashmatullah Shahidi (capt), 5 Azmatullah Omarzai, 6 Ikram Alikhil (wk), 7 Mohammad Nabi, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 10 Naveen-ul-Haq, 11 Fazalhaq Farooqi
Sri Lanka were dealt yet another injury blow, after Player of the Match against England, Lahiru Kumara, was ruled out of the tournament with a thigh injury. He has been replaced in the squad by Dushmantha Chameera, himself returning from injury, and it is likely he will come straight into the side. Kusal Perera’s form meanwhile has been a concern of late, and there have been murmurs of Dimuth Karunaratne replacing him at the top of the order.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Pathum Nissanka, 2 Kusal Perera/Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Kusal Mendis (capt, wk) 4 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 5 Charith Asalanka, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Angelo Mathews 8 Maheesh Theekshana, 9 Kasun Rajitha, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Dilshan Madushanka
Pitch and conditions
The Pune surface in recent times has shown a propensity for high scores, but there’s also been some assistance for the spinners – something both sides could benefit from. That said, dew might come into play in the evening, so the toss will prove crucial as usual.
Stats and trivia
“I think this break is good for us because we had back-to-back games before that and when you play too many games in short time, so the players get like tired. So that was good – after a good win when you are having rest and think about other games also that give you time and also give rest for the bodies and I can say that was good for us.”
Hashmatullah Shahidi feels the six-day rest since their last game will hold them in good stead