Tillakaratne Dilshan, 39 years and 155 days young, showed all the skills, experience and calm necessary in a high-pressure chase to help Sri Lanka to a hard-fought victory over Afghanistan in a Group 1 match of the ICC World T20 2016.
Chasing 154, after Afghanistan finished their batting innings on 153/7, thanks to captain Asghar Stanikzai's half-century, Dilshan (83 n.o., 56b, 6x4, 3x6) anchored the innings to perfection to take Sri Lanka home with six wickets and seven balls left. It was not the most convincing of wins from Sri Lanka, but after a torrid time recently, they will certainly take the win, and that too against an Afghanistan side that was full of confidence after some brilliant performances in the qualifying phase of the WT20.
Sri Lanka got off to a good start, with Dinesh Chandimal and Dilshan playing smart cricket, while making sure they do not give away cheap wickets and with it give Afghanistan the bowling momentum they are looking for.
The opening partnership was worth 41 runs and lasted nearly the entire Powerplay overs, and even if Chandimal (18, 17b, 2x4, 1x6) and Lahiru Thirimanne fell in the space of three overs, Dilshan kept at it, not getting too bothered, even when Thisara Perera fell via a tight run out.
Afghanistan, who were a little sluggish in the field, kept fighting, though, with Mohammad Nabi fashioning a nice run out to send Chamara Kapugedera back, but with Dilshan continuing to look strong and the wonderful finisher in Angelo Mathews (21 n.o., 10b, 3x4, 1x6) arriving at the crease, Sri Lanka eventually eased home.
Earlier, Afghanistan were a little tight to begin with in their batting. Mohammad Shahzad the catalyst to so much of Afghanistan's batting success, looked like he felt the weight on his shoulders, and as a result failed to just press that freedom button early enough.
After a forehand down the ground for a boundary in the fourth ball of the Angelo Mathews, Shahzad went for another boundary with a pull shot, but only found a top edge with Dushmantha Chameera taking a simple catch.
Noor Ali Zadran got out of his shell a little after Shahzad's dismissal, taking it upon himself to get this Afghanistan innings going. But, after a few boundaries, Noor Ali (20, 23b, 3x4) also fell, this time to the wily Rangana Herath (4-0-24-2). Sri Lanka struck again in the next over, the tenth of the innings, with Karim Sadiq (4-0-33-3) edging one through to Dinesh Chandimal while trying to take the attack to Thisara Perera.
That meant the responsibility rested on captain Stanikzai's shoulders, along with Nabi and Samiullah Shenwari. While Nabi could not quite do his thing in this match, Shenwari (31, 14b, 3x4, 2x6) and Stanikzai (62, 47b, 3x4, 4x6) certainly did, giving Afghanistan the thrust they needed to give their bowlers something to defend.
Stanikzai and Shenwari put on 61 runs together for the fifth wicket in under six overs, to ensure Afghanistan would get past that 150 mark. However, with Dilshan showing his wide experience in the chase, that score proved to be just not enough for Afghanistan to pull off the upset they were looking for.