Aakash Sivasubramaniam
31 Oct 2022 | 11:06 AM

Bouncy Gabba welcomes two spin-heavy Asian sides

Will weather yet again play a spoilsport?

An all-Asian affair in the most Australian of conditions. This is the beauty of the World Cup, isn’t it? Maybe this contest would have had much more relevance had rain not robbed Afghanistan of two games earlier. But as things stand, both teams have a loss against their name in their previous played clash. 

For Afghanistan, they have not had the opportunity to test themselves out after the opening game loss against England. On the other hand, Sri Lanka have been handed severe T20 masterclass from Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Phillips. While they didn’t have a clue against Stoinis, they have only themselves to blame for the Phillips show. 

But you get the point, these two sides are the most Asian of the teams that you can get. But Gabba has a different challenge, the fast-paced, bouncy track will prove to be a handful for the batters. It is really the question of whether these two batting units could stand up to the challenge?

Oh wait, there are chances of the match being troubled by rain, which really can get extremely frustrating. It almost feels like Afghanistan’s flight has a certain rain in its passenger seat, accompanying them. 

Afghanistan have a point to prove

Well, it could be true to any side which hasn’t won a single game in this year’s tournament but it applies more to Afghanistan than anyone. Remember, they were one of the dark horses coming into the tournament. A poor show in the Asia Cup ensured that their journey was cut short then and there. So, coming into the World Cup, it was a matter of their big guns stepping up.

In their opener against England, it was an extremely disappointing batting display from the Asian side. If that wasn’t enough, their bowling and fielding was under-par. But despite that, they made a game out of nothing against a strong opposition like England. In the next two games, surely, they were eyeing at least one win. 

Back-to-back rained off games has landed them here at Gabba. If the weather forecast is to be believed, it might be yet another extremely frustrating day. But Afghanistan really have a point to prove, starting from their top-order. Their frailties at the top of the order was in display against England. 

After starting the year strong, Rahmanullah Gurbaz’s form has hit a rough patch, with 10, 0 and 17 since the Sri Lanka heroics. Interestingly, their opening pair have been suffering, with 11 and 0 in the last two clashes. So, in reality, they need their openers to step up, given that Afghanistan have won 6/8 games when they have put on a 50-run stand. 

Asian champions but a massive struggle at world stage

If you could sum up Sri Lanka’s campaign in one sentence, it would be this, the Asian champions are massively struggling at the world stage. It is the familiar problems that are resurfacing, the batting isn’t clicking, there is some reliance on the spinners to pick up wickets and then the big one, injuries one after the other, ruining the show. Of course, there are plenty of intangibles attached to it but the bottom line is Sri Lanka need to find more match-winners. 

In their last two fixtures, it could be said that they were nearly there. Against Australia, the Sri Lankan pacer Lahiru Kumara put on an absolute show. In the next clash, it was Kasun Rajitha. But the big worry would be the form of Wanindu Hasaranga going into this fixture. 

Gabba isn’t the most spin-friendly conditions and the last time Hasaranga played at such a venue – Perth – he ended with figures of 0/53 after just three overs. So, yet again Sri Lanka will rely heavily on their pacers up front to do the damage. 

In three out of their last five games, Pathum Nissanka and Kusal Mendis have an opening partnership of under 15 runs. In fact, Mendis has a very high dismissal rate in his first ten balls (45.8%). The right-hander has indeed struggled massively against pacers, averaging 19.6. 

Bhanuka Rajapaksa’s impact in the middle-order will be extremely crucial. Whenever he has conjured up 30+ runs, Sri Lanka have been on the winning side in 66.7% of those games. It is pretty evident that his mixed bag thus far in the tournament has really put the Asian side in a coup. 

Last but not the least, captain Dasun Shanaka has been a worry too. His struggle against leg-spinners has been well documented. He’s got out nine times against leggies, with an average of just 17, and a SR of 98. It could be well worth a try to keep him at the back end of the innings, promoting Hasaranga. 

Weather and Team Combination

Brisbane’s weather could really be the Halloween for the two sides. Both Monday (October 31) and Tuesday (November 1) are expected to have showers. We might yet again see a delayed start, if that is the case. But Afghanistan, out of all teams, would really want the Rain god to be more considerate to them, having already played a huge role in their previous two fixtures. 

With Fazalhaq Farooqi already in the XI, Afghanistan could look at replacing Fareed with Naveen. In the batting department, bringing in Darwish might be an option worth considering. 

Afghanistan XI: Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Ibrahim Zadran, Usman Ghani/Darwish Rasooli, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi (c), Azmatullah Omarzai, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Fareed Ahmad Malik/Naveen-ul-Haq, Fazalhaq Farooqi

To be honest, Sri Lanka at this point have a painful story to narrate, given the number of injuries in the camp. But expect the same side that played against New Zealand, with all of them fit for this encounter. 

Sri Lanka XI: Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis (wk), Dhananjaya de Silva, Charith Asalanka, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Dasun Shanaka (c), Wanindu Hasaranga, Chamika Karunaratne, Maheesh Theekshana, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha

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