Kusal Mendis begins captaincy tenure in style as Sri Lanka clinch ODI series against Afghanistan

It was a resounding start to Kusal Mendis’ journey as Sri Lanka’s full-time ODI captain, as his team secured a convincing 155-run win over Afghanistan at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium. With this victory, Sri Lanka took an insurmountable 2-0 lead in the three-match series, putting on a show of strength that has surely delighted the local fans and supporters globally.

Despite a shaky commencement, where the Lankan Lions found themselves on the backfoot at 36 for 2 within the first nine overs, the home team didn’t let the situation dictate the outcome. Afghanistan, captained by Hashmatullah Shahidi, seemingly had control early on but failed to grab the opportunity with a firmer grip, which allowed Sri Lanka to fight back fiercely.

Sri Lanka’s comeback was orchestrated by a symphony of half-centuries from their batsmen. Mendis himself contributed a robust 61 from 65 balls, setting the tone for the resurgence. He was well-supported by Sadeera Samarawickrama, who chipped in with 52 off 61 balls. But it was Charith Asalanka’s undefeated 97 from just 74 balls that truly turned heads. His near-century, embellished with powerful strokes and smart play, came at a blistering strike rate of 131.08. Janith Liyanage, too, played his part diligently scoring a fast-paced 50 off 48 balls. Together, these performances changed the game’s momentum and propelled Sri Lanka to an imposing total of 308 runs.

Afghanistan’s bowling attack, barring the notable exception of Azmatullah Omarzai, failed to leave a lasting mark. Omarzai managed to bag three wickets for 56 runs in his 10-over spell, but his efforts were in stark contrast to the rest of the bowling line-up that struggled to find a breakthrough or to stem the flow of runs.

The chase turned out to be an uphill battle for the visitors, despite a promising 97-run partnership for the second wicket between Ibrahim Zadran and Rahmat Shah. They managed to exert pressure on Sri Lanka, keeping the hopes alive till the 30th over. However, the turning point came when Asitha Fernando and the dynamic Wanindu Hasaranga dismissed Zadran and Shah within just three overs of each other, dousing the burgeoning Afghan challenge.

It was Hasaranga who truly shone with the ball, spinning a web around the Afghan batsmen with his leg breaks and googlies. His cricketing prowess was on full display as he ended with sensational figures of 4 wickets for 27 runs in under seven overs. His spell was crucial in triggering a dramatic batting collapse from Afghanistan, leading to them being bundled out for a modest 153, well short of their target.

The triumph was a testament to Sri Lanka’s batting depth and their ability to recover from early setbacks. The bowlers, led by Hasaranga’s masterclass, ensured that the team’s competitive total was well-defended, showcasing Sri Lanka’s all-around capabilities in the one-day format.

The match went beyond just being a victory for Sri Lanka; it served as a marker for Mendis’ captaincy as he steered his team with aplomb both through his leadership and personal performance. The series win provides a positive outlook for the Lankan Lions as they continue to rebuild and assert themselves as formidable opponents on the international stage.

As the series moves forward, Afghanistan will reflect on what could have been, while Sri Lanka will take this commanding win as a sign of promising times under their new captain’s leadership. Mendis’ tenure has just begun, but if this match is anything to go by, it may well herald a fresh era of success for Sri Lankan cricket.

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