Sri Lanka were always a strong team in the subcontinent, with players such as Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, but they have retired from the gentleman's game.The youngsters have not been able to stand up in their absence. Hence, Sri Lanka are not major contenders like India and South Africa for the ICC World T20. Sri Lanka will still be keen to kick-start their campaign Thursday against Afghanistan at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
Sri Lanka do not come into the World T20 with great form behind them. They lost both their warm-up matches, against New Zealand and Pakistan respectively. Prior to this, their performance in the Asia Cup was dismal as well, as they won a single game in the competition.
Lasith Malinga, who quit as captain of the Sri Lanka team, has been replaced by Angelo Mathews. The all-rounder has a huge task ahead of him in the World T20, where they have to play out of their skin to reach the semifinals of the competition from a group that includes South Africa, England and West Indies.
Their opponents for Thursday, Afghanistan, are the weakest team in the competition. Sri Lanka are expected to defeat the Afghans, which can the help the team gather confidence as they take on some stronger teams later in the World T20.
This Sri Lankan team lacks experience, especially the batting unit. Tillakaratne Dilshan is their most experienced campaigner. With poor performances from Sri Lanka batsmen in the Asia Cup, selectors made some last-minute changes and brought in Lahiru Thirimanne to bolster the batting line-up.
The left-hander played his last match two years ago, but his experience in the international circuit will come in handy for Sri Lanka.
However, their bowling attack looks decent with Mathews, Lasith Malinga and Rangana Herath. Malinga's participation is doubtful for the first game as he still recovering from an ninjured left knee.
Afghanistan, on the other hand, will be under no pressure, which could lead to some quality cricket from them. They have qualified for the Super-10s after playing some brilliant cricket in the qualifying stages of the World T20. Afghanistan defeated Hong Kong, Scotland and Zimbabwe to seal their berth for the World T20 Super-10s.
They might not possess big names like other nations, but their players are brave and do not shy away from taking the attack to the opposition. Mohammad Shahzad and skipper Asghar Stanikzai are players to watch in the Afghanistan team.
Teams: Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (c) Dushmantha Chameera, Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lahiru Thirimanne, Suranga Lakmal. Rangana Herath, Shehan Jayasuriya, Chamara Kapugedara, Nuwan Kulasekera, Thisara Perera, Sachithra Senanayake, Dasun Shanaka, Milinda Siriwardena
Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (c), Amir Hamza, Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Hamid Hassan, Karim Sadiq, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Najibullah Zadran, Noor Ali Zadran, Rashid Khan, Samiullah Shenwari, Shafiqullah Shafiq, Shapoor Zadran, Usman Ghani.
Sri Lanka vs Afghanistan World T20 schedule
Date: March 17
Time: 7.30 p.m. IST (10 a.m. West Indies Time, 2 p.m. GMT, 9 a.m. ET)
Venue: Eden Gardens, Kolkata
TV listings: India: Star Sports 1/HD1, Star Sports 3/HD3. Indian subcontinent: Star Sports network. New Zealand: Sky Sports. UK: Sky Sports. US and Canada: Willow TV. Middle East and North Africa: OSN Sports Cricket HD. South Africa and Sub Saharan Africa: SuperSport 2.Australia: Fox Sports 3. Hong Kong and Singapore: Star Cricket. Malaysia: Astro Cricket HD, West Indies: ESPN.