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A hotly anticipated clash in Group D takes place at the Cobham Oval in Whangarei on Tuesday (17 January) when Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, two sides who won their respective tournament openers, face each other.
Pakistan’s resounding victory over Ireland on Tuesday not only put them atop the table, it also significantly boosted their net run-rate, ensuring this group is still wide open. Add weather to the mix – Whangarei is expected to come under severe downpour on Wednesday – and there is the possibility of a washout, meaning points will be shared and the drama quotient will shoot up ahead of the final round.
Defeat wouldn’t really signal the end of the road for either side. However, victory would seal progress and make things a whole lot easier.
Afghanistan finished ninth in the previous World Cup, but they are an entirely different prospect this time around. They won the Under 19 Asia Cup, thumping Pakistan by 185 runs in the final in November, and went on to make it three consecutive victories against Pakistan by winning the tournament opener by five wickets – a margin that doesn’t entirely suggest how comfortable it was for them.
Sri Lanka didn’t have the greatest 2017, losing 10 of their 17 matches played. However, there were victories against the likes of Australia and, crucially, Afghanistan among the seven they did win. They will hope to repeat that in Whangarei, and the manner in which they eased past Ireland by seven wickets on Sunday should be reason for confidence.
Players to watch
The plaudits in Afghanistan’s first match largely went the way of Darwish Rasooli, whose unbeaten 76 helped topple Pakistan’s total of 188. However, the victory was perhaps set up by the captain. Naveen opened the bowling after putting Pakistan in, and his spell was one of intense aggression, all stare-downs and bouncers. He reduced Pakistan to 23/2, and that put them on the back foot very early on – more of the same will do Afghanistan a lot of good.
Dhananjaya Lakshan (SL)
The Sri Lankan opener emerged with much credit after his team’s seven-wicket victory over Ireland. He displayed his versatility during his unbeaten 101, grinding the opposition down when things were tough, and taking the attack to the bowlers when the need arose. His knock was instrumental in limiting Ireland’s momentum at a time when Sri Lanka were reduced to 9/2 and then 51/3. Afghanistan will need to keep a close eye on him.
Head to head
The history between these two sides don’t go long back, but in five matches they’ve played since 2012, the margin currently is 3-1 in Sri Lanka’s favour. Afghanistan’s only victory came in the 2014 ICC U19 CWC for the seventh place play-off – they won that by five wickets. In their most recent clash, in the U19 Asia Cup in November, Sri Lanka emerged victory by 61 runs. Tomorrow’s clash could go either way.
World Cup history
The best Sri Lanka have ever fared in an Under 19 World Cup was in 2000, when they lost to India in the final at home in Colombo. Thereafter, they have reached as far as the semi-finals in 2010 and 2016, but have failed to leave an indelible mark on the tournament.
Afghanistan’s stark rise, from being also-rans to one of the favourites, is illustrated by the fact that all their ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup appearances have come this decade. Their best performance until now came in 2014, when they shocked Australia in the group stages to qualify for the quarter-finals, eventually finishing seventh.
Rain, and plenty of it, is expected on Wednesday in Whangarei. The Northernmost city in New Zealand has so far resisted the elements bravely though, with all three matches played to a result. More of the same is hoped.
Sri Lanka: Kamindu Mendis (c), Dhananjaya Lakshan, Santhush Gunathilaka, Hasitha Boyagoda, Nawanidu Fernando, Nipun Dananjaya, Ashen Bandara, Kishan Sanjula, Nishan Madushka, Jehan Daniel, Praveen Jayawickrama, Haren Buddila, Thisaru Rashmika, Kalana Perera, Nipun Malinga.
Afghanistan: Naveen-ul-Haq (c), Qais Ahmad, Azmatullah Omarzai, Ikram Ali Khil (wk), Rahmanullah, Mohammad Ibrahim, Zahir Khan, Darwish Rasooli, Baheer Shah, Tariq Stanikzai, Nisar Wahdat, Wafadar, Waqarullah Ishaq, Mujeeb Zadran, Yousuf Zazai.
This article first appeared on ICC-cricket.com
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