by Rex Clementine
This is a busy year for the national cricket team and having already played Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka are preparing to host Afghanistan in an all-format series that will get underway later this week.
The Afghans will arrive in the island shortly and will feature in a Test match in our soil for the first time. They were granted Test status in 2017 and featured in their maiden Test a year later when India hosted them.
Although the Afghans have become a force to be reckoned with in the white ball formats having cut their teeth in several league tournaments across the world, in Test match cricket they still struggle to make an impact.
Since the inaugural Test, in six years, they have featured in only seven Test matches. Of those seven Tests, they have won three games with those wins coming against Ireland, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
The win over Bangladesh in 2019 in Chittagong was a talking point with leg-spinner Rashid Khan claiming a match bag of 11 wickets.
Rashid, however, will not be available for the one-off Test at SSC starting on Friday, as he is recovering from back surgery.
Sri Lanka will be skippered by Dhananjaya de Silva for the first time. Sri Lanka’s Test squad is an experienced unit and they should overcome the Afghan challenge.
However, the white ball series provides different challenges. While the Afghans are considered the dark horses in this year’s T-20 World Cup, they finished last year’s 50 over World Cup in a commendable sixth position, narrowly missing out on a semi-final berth.
They beat three former champions in the last year’s World Cup – England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan also gave a near scare to eventual champions Australia.
They will be no pushovers during the white ball series.
While Afghanistan have a formidable spin bowling attack, top order batsman Ibrahim Zadran has made rapid progress in recent times having notched up five hundreds and five half-centuries in the 28 ODIs he has featured in so far.
The 50 over series will take place at Pallekele while the teams will move to Dambulla for the three match T-20 series.
Since hosting England in October 2018, men’s international games haven’t been played at Dambulla. There were suggestions to play a portion of last year’s Asia Cup in Dambulla, due to the area’s low rainfall. However, those plans were shelved eventually.