Afghanistan and Sri Lanka will both be out to even up their win-loss record and give their hopes of reaching the knockout stages a huge boost when the sides meet in Pune. Both sides have surged back into semi-final contention with giant-killing victories, as Afghanistan stunned Pakistan and Sri Lanka made it two on the trot with a win over titleholder England.
Sri Lanka have a strong recent record against Afghanistan, having won their past three clashes in the format including a thriller in the Asia Cup by only two runs, and boast opener Pathum Nissanka in red-hot form following four consecutive fifties. But the luckless Sri Lanka have been hit by further injury with in-form pacer Lahiru Kumara the latest in their squad to be sidelined, while Afghanistan have a settled line-up packed in spin power.
The recent past will count for little with the winner of this meeting set to boost their hopes of reaching the knockout stages, while the loser will have no more margin for error as they fall back into the chasing pack. Squads
Afghanistan squad: Hashmatullah Shahidi (c), Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Ibrahim Zadran, Riaz Hassan, Rahmat Shah, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Ikram Alikhil, Azmatullah Omarzai, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Noor Ahmad, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Abdul Rahman, Naveen ul Haq Sri Lanka squad: Kusal Mendis (c), Kusal Perera, Pathum Nissanka, Angelo Mathews, Dushmantha Chameera, Dimuth Karunaratne, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Maheesh Theekshana, Dunith Wellalage, Kasun Rajitha, Dilshan Madushanka, Dushan Hemantha, Chamika Karunaratne.
Key players Afghanistan – Naveen-ul-Haq
The fiery pacer has been critical in adding balance to an Afghanistan attack that can otherwise turn to the spin threat from Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Mohammad Nabi and Noor Ahmad. Often taking the ball as the first change, Naveen has had a knack of picking up wickets at important times in both of Afghanistan’s victories, including knocking down Jos Buttler’s stumps when a shaky England were rebuilding in their chase.
The 24-year-old already has six wickets to be equal with spin magician Rashid Khan as Afghanistan’s most damaging bowler so far at the Cricket World Cup, and in his farewell to the format now looms as crucial to their hopes of restricting Sri Lanka’s dangerous top order. Sri Lanka – Kusal Mendis
The keeper-batter has been in the thick of the action since taking the reins from Dasun Shanaka when the Sri Lanka captain was ruled out of the tournament with a quad injury. Mendis has led Sri Lanka to back-to-back victories, after initially being at the helm for the loss to Australia, while his glovework seems to have also stepped up with the added responsibility.
The 28-year-old took a pair of neat catches against the Netherlands, then backed it up with two more grabs, a stumping and a clever run out of Adil Rashid that all but sealed the stirring triumph over England. But with only 31 runs in three knocks since stepping in as skipper, Mendis will be out to rediscover the touch that had him start the Cricket World Cup with 198 runs across Sri Lanka’s opening two matches.