Afghanistan and Sri Lanka look for first wins

Both Afghanistan and Sri Lanka lost their opening World Cup games. They lock horns tonight in Dunedin at 1000 GMT.


Sri Lanka's opening defeat came against in-form hosts New Zealand and followed warm-up losses against India and Zimbabwe, as well as a heavy ODI series defeat to the Black Caps before that. They will look to get their campaign back on track against one of their pool's qualifiers in Afghanistan and know that additional wins against Bangladesh and Scotland should still see them progress to the quarter-finals.

Afghanistan, meanwhile, played well below their best on World Cup debut against Bangladesh despite arguably having the better of the first quarter of the match before Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mashrafe Mortaza took the game away from them. They will have come into this tournament targeting wins over Scotland and at least one other, with this game against an out-of-form Sri Lanka representing the ideal opportunity.

Strengths and weaknesses:
Sri Lanka, like England, have several areas of concern. Their bowling attack lacks penetration, with spearhead Lasith Malinga looking well below his peak fitness on return from injury during the defeat to the hosts. Nuwan Kulasekara was also below his best, although his figures of one for 78 from eight overs continue a worrying trend of decline that began last year.

The batting has also caused concern, particularly after the top four, which is perhaps Sri Lanka's strength. Retiring former captain Mahela Jayawardene told ESPNcricinfo that the team need to "get [hard-hitting all-rounder Thisara Perera] going at some stage." This may bolster the lower-order.

Jayawardene also spoke out against suggestions that moving one of the top four down into the middle-order might shore things, saying, "I don't know if changing the line-up is the solution. It's about the players' attitudes in those situations. Dimuth Karunaratne (at number five) has been given a role to play and he should have confidence to do that."

Afghanistan's strengths and weakness are almost complete opposites to Sri Lanka's. They have an exciting new-ball attack in Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran and have Mohammad Nabi, arguably their best batsman, providing impetus at number six. Their top-order failed miserably against Bangladesh, slipping to three for three, so is an obvious area of focus. The usually dependable Asghar Stanikzai will be expected to contribute more than he did on that occasion.

Team news:
Sri Lanka could drop Dimuth Karunaratne and bring in Dinesh Chandimal at number five. Another possible change, hinted at by Jayawardene is the recall of Perera, possibly at the expense of leg-spinner Jeevan Mendis or Kulasekara. Alternatively, Kulasekara may lose his place to exciting young fast-bowler Dushmantha Chameera.

Possible XI: Lahiru Thirimanne, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara (wicket-keeper), Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews (captain), Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Rangana Herath, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal.

Afghanistan could perhaps bring in Dawlat Zadran to further strengthen their pace attack. He may displace Aftab Alam, who is arguably more dependable but less likely to take wickets. Other changes will focus on the batting. Usman Ghani and Nasir Jamal could quite easily replace Javed Ahmadi or Najibullah Zadran.

Possible XI: Javed Ahmadi, Afsar Zazai (wicket-keeper), Nawroz Mangal, Ashghar Stanikzai, Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Nabi (captain), Najibullah Zadran, Mirwais Ashraf, Dawlat Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran.

Conditions: Both sides traditionally have strong spin attacks that do not necessarily suit the conditions in Dunedin. The short boundaries and likelihood of early swing - as seen in the match between Scotland and New Zealand - may yet play a role in team selection. Overhead, the weather looks perfect for cricket, with sunshine, a light breeze and highs of around 19 degrees Celsius.

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