Pathum Nissanka's double ton (210* off 139), the first by a Sri Lankan in ODIs, coupled with a four-fer from Pramod Madushan helped Sri Lanka to a 42-run win over Afghanistan in the first game of the three-match ODI series in Pallekele on Friday (February 9). The duo's efforts trumped superlative tons from Mohammad Nabi (136 off 130) and Azmatullah Omarzai (149* off 115) who had shared a 242-run stand to keep the fight going for the tourists after they had been reduced to 55/5 inside the first ten overs. Unfortunately, the target of 382 always seemed to be a bridge too far, particularly after the kind of start they endured.
While Omarzai and Nabi produced a spectacular act, the headline act with the bat came earlier in the day from Nissanka. The opener, returning from injury, showed no signs of rust as he got going from the get-go. His signature brand of silky strokeplay was in full swing as he cut, drove, flicked and pulled with elan, each shot oozing with class and finesse. His opening partner Avishka Fernando wasn't far away in terms of strokeplay and also packed a solid punch in his power strokes as the duo added 182 for the first wicket at a healthy clip. Fernando smashed a run-a-ball 88 before perishing to Fareed Ahmad.
Despite the easy-paced nature of the pitch, skipper Kusal Mendis couldn't get going and it was a phase where Afghanistan harbored hopes of pulling things back. However, Nissanka then switched gears and also found an able partner in Sadeera Samarawickrama (45 off 36) as the pair racked up a 120-run stand off just 71 balls. Boundaries and sixes started to bleed for Afghanistan who had no answers to the partnership until the damage was done. Nissanka was the aggressor and went past Sanath Jayasuriya's 24-year-old Sri Lankan record for the highest individual score (189) before getting into the coveted double century club.
With a mountain to climb, Afghanistan needed a fluent start to make a game of it but Madushan had other ideas. His triple strike with the new ball wreaked havoc in the Afghanistan camp. He removed Rahmanullah Gurbaz off his very first ball and then removed Ibrahim Zadran in his next over to set the tone for the home side. He then had Hashmatullah Shahidi castled while Dushmantha Chameera got rid of Rahmat Shah and Gulbadin Naib. By the ninth over, Afghanistan had raced to 55 but lost half their side in the bargain. From there it was virtually a point of no return, although Omarzai and Nabi didn't go down without a fight.
Both batters bided their time early on and focused on steadily going through the gears. Omarzai, high on confidence after his form in the ODI World Cup, looked in supreme form. As did Nabi, with the pair showcasing some crisp ball-striking, particularly towards the back end. However, the early carnage in the first ten overs was a telling blow to the chase. Sri Lanka's spinners Wanindu Hasaranga and Maheesh Theekshana also bowled tidily even though they didn't pick up a single wicket. Both bowled their spells at less than run-a-ball and in a chase of 382, these were critical as well. In the end, Omarzai and Nabi managed to give Afghanistan's innings a solid bout of respectability.
Brief scores: Sri Lanka 381/4 in 50 overs (Pathum Nissanka 210*, Avishka Fernando 88; Fareed Ahmad 2-79) beat Afghanistan 339/6 in 50 overs (Azmatullah Omarzai 149*, Mohammad Nabi 136; Pramod Madushan 4-75) by 42 runs