Kolkata, March 17 (IANS) Skipper Asghar Stanikzai led from the front with a half-century as Afghanistan posted a decent 153/7 against defending champions Sri Lanka in a World Twenty20 cricket game at the Eden Gardens here on Thursday.
The 28-year-old Stanikzai (62; 47 b, 3×4, 4×6) not only came up with a sensational knock, but also benefited from two dropped catches, to pull Afghanistan from a point of trouble at 51/4 to set the islanders an asking rate of 7.7.
The highlight of the innings was a 61-run stand between the Kabul-born Stanikzai and Samiullah Shenwari (31; 14 b, 3×4,2×6).
For Sri Lanka, Thisara Perera (3/33) was the most successful bowler.
Afghanistan began in a quiet manner, with the two openers Mohammad Shahzad and Noor Ali Zadran scoring three of the first two overs.
Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews, who got some purchase from the track, struck the first blow in the evening’s third over. The 28-year-old pacer kept one on the spot and Shahzad (8) went for a pull, but managed only an outside edge that landed in the hands of the mid on fielder. Afghanistan were 12/1.
The loss of his opening partner spurred Zadran into action as he picked up two back-to-back fours off Nuwan Kulasekara’s next over.
However, he seemed to be struggling in getting his shots going, and became veteran spinner Rangana Herath’s victim in the ninth over.
Brought into operation in the seventh over, Herath shattered Zadran’s (20) leg stump as the batsman failed to negotiate the delivery.
Karim Sadiq and Gulbadin Nabi did not last long, and Afghanistan seemed to be tottering at 51/4 by the end of the 11th over.
Stanikzai, who had started cautiously, went full blast in the 13th over, hoicking Milinda Siriwardana for two consecutive sixes.
However, he got a life two overs later, as Lahiru Thirimane could not latch on to a chance at midwicket fence, and the ball went for a six.
Samiullah Shenwari, who began firing on all cylinders from the outset, steadied the innings in the company of his skipper.
The 50-run partnership for the fifth wicket came off only 29 balls, before Shenwari (31;A 14b,A 3×4, 2×6) departed in the 17th over.
Stanikzai’s lucky but vastly useful knock came to an end in the penultimate over, as he failed to execute his shot properly, and ended up caught behind.