Sri Lankan batters showed enormous tactical acumen in yet another tricky run-chase as they defeated Afghanistan by four wickets in the opening Super Four game of the Asia Cup in Sharjah on Saturday.
It was a fantastic bowling effort at the death that saw Sri Lanka restrict the Afghans to 175 for 6 with only 37 runs coming in the last five overs despite a brilliant 84 off 45 balls by Rahamanullah Gurbaz.
In reply, Sri Lanka chased down the target in 19.1 overs with several small but impactful contributions that sealed the issue for them. This was the highest run-chase in a T20I at Sharjah.
Just like great bowing at the death, the overs between 15-18 yielded 51 runs for the Lankans and that proved to be a game-changer.
Kusal Mendis (36 off 19 balls) started from where he had left against Bangladesh the other day as he launched into the opposition's best bowler Rashid Khan, depositing him for two successive sixes as 17 runs came in that over inside the Powerplay.
And before that, Mendis had a maximum of Mujeeb ur Rahaman. All three sixes were in the arc between deep mid-wicket and deep square leg. His opening partner Pathum Nissanka (35 off 28 balls) also gave solid support as 62 were added for the opening stand.
However, it was Danuska Gunathilaka (33 off 20 balls) and Bhanuka Rajapaksa (31 off 14 balls), whose 32 runs stand of just 2.3 overs changed the complexion of the game.
Their daredevilry had an enormous impact in the final outcome of the game as they hit sixes and found the gaps with ease. In the 34 balls that they played, there were six fours and three sixes.
The Afghan bowlers, who are not always used to handling pressure situations, did falter in the end and Rashid's poor day (1/39 in 4 overs) at the office did have its effect.
Put into bat young opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz gave a brilliant exhibition of his dashing strokeplay as his innings was the cornerstone of Afghanistan's competitive total of 175 for 6.
However, Afghanistan will be a bit disappointed as the last five overs yielded only 37 runs and lost five wickets in a jiffy with Gurbaz's dismissal putting some sort of a brake on the run flow.
Gurbaz, the 20-year-old right-hander, who was a part of IPL champion team Gujarat Titans, smashed half a dozen sixes and added 93 in just 10.4 overs with Ibrahim Zadran (40) to take Afghanistan to a more than respectable total at the Sharjah Cricket ground.
The evening belonged to Gurbaz, who did get a slice of luck as Danushka Gunathilaka's foot touched the rope when he went for a successive second six off mystery spinner Mahesh Theekshana, having slog-swept him for his first six. However, there was no looking back after that even though the right-hander didn't use his feet much against the spinner.
The slog sweep off Wanindu Hasaranga over cow corner was a treat to watch and so was the two down-the-ground sixes off Chamika Karunaratne which was all about maximum power with hand-eye coordination and minimal feet movement.
There was a pull shot off pacer Asitha Fernando among the half dozen of sixes that he hit and once he was out, Sri Lanka bowlers did get a sense of reprieve on a ground where the side boundaries are really short.
Zadran though got a few lusty blows and so did Rashid Khan (9) towards the fag end of the Afghanistan innings to take the score close to 180.
While spinners Theekshana (1/29) and Hasaranga (0/23 in 4 overs) gave away only 52 in their eight overs, it was skipper Dasun Shanaka (0/22 in 2 overs) and Karunaratne (0/29 in 2 overs), who leaked 51 runs in four overs for the "fifth bowler's quota".