Andrew Fidel Fernando, in ESPNcricinfo.com
Sri Lanka 314 for 6 (Asalanka 83*, Mendis 67, Rashid 4-37, Nabi 2-56) beat Afghanistan 313 for 8 (Ibrahim 162, Najibullah 77, Rajitha 3-60) by four wickets ………. Charith Asalanka produced the innings of his ODI career so far, hitting 83 high-pressure runs off 72 balls to help Sri Lanka orchestrate a record chase of 314 at Pallekele and help his side level the three-game series 1-1.
While Asalanka produced the roaring finish Sri Lanka’s ininngs required, with some help from Dasun Shanaka and Dunith Wellalage, Kusal Mendis had delivered the early impetus, breezing to 67 off 61 balls in an opening stand worth 101 with Pathum Nissanka.
Their efforts bested Ibrahim Zadran‘s epic 162 off 138 balls – easily the highest ODI score by an Aghanistan batter, the previous best being Mohammad Shahzad’s 131 not out against Zimbabwe. His innings had formed the spine of the Afghanistan batting performance, while he and Najibullah Zadran put on 154 off 141 together to rescue Afghanistan from a precarious 57 for 3, and deliver them to a position of strength.
That partnership was Afghanistan’s best-ever for the fourth wicket, and they had produced a good finish thereafter too, making 87 off the last 10 overs, of which Ibrahim hit 56.
But although the highest previous successful chase at Pallekele had been Sri Lanka’s running down a target of 297 against Zimbabwe, this target was achieved with two balls to spare. In addition to Asalanka, Sri Lanka were propelled through the late stages by Wellalage, who made 31 not out off 21. Together the pair put on an unbeaten 65 runs off just 39 balls for the seventh wicket.
This is essentially the partnership that sealed the match for Sri Lanka, because when they came together, Sri Lanka needed to score at well over nine an over, and this was essentially the last recognised pair. It was Asalanka’s two sixes off Mujeeb Ur Rahman in the 45th over that signalled Sri Lanka’s charge as he smoked the bowler over long-on.
Although the 47th over, bowled by Rashid Khan, went for just three runs, and left Sri Lanka needing 37 runs off the last 18 balls, Wellalage found his batting rhythm to take the pressure off Asalanka in the last few overs. He sent Fazalhaq Farooqi scorching past extra cover to end the 48th over, then struck three fours in the next over, bowled by Gulbadin Naib, scooping him over fine leg, slapping him through fine leg, then tonking him down the ground.
Sri Lanka still needed 13 off the last over, bowled by Farooqi, and each batter hit a six. Wellalage’s was over cow corner, the shot palmed over the rope by a Rashid running full tilt to his left. Asalanka’s was over deep square leg, as Farooqi insisted on going short rather than full in the final over. All up, Asalanka hit four sixes and five fours, and had been limping – through cramp most likely – for the last third of his innings.
Earlier, Mendis had been effective on the legside as ever as he went about pushing Sri Lanka above the required rate. Almost two-thirds of his runs came behind the wicket. He hit eight fours and a six in total.
Even earlier in the game, though, Sri Lanka had Afghanistan by the collar. The visitors had been reduced to 57 for 3 after 14.1 overs at one point. But then Ibrahim and Najibullah rebuilt conscientiously before switching to accumulation mode through the early middle overs, then exploding as the death approached.
In the first 55 balls of his innings, Najibullah struck only two fours. In the next 21 balls, before he got out in the 38th over, he hit six fours and one six. The scoring rate did not slow after Najibullah was dismissed. Having completed his hundred, Ibrahim took a firmer grip of the reins and forged productive partnerships with Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, and Noor Ahmad. His runs came all around the wicket by the end. He was out off the last ball of the innings, having struck 15 fours and four sixes.
Sri Lanka pick up ten Super League points, which puts them at 77 total – still ninth on the list. They have only three more matches to play in the League. Afghanistan are currently placed seventh.