Sri Lanka (from): Lahiru Thirimanne, T.M. Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardena, Angelo Mathews (Captain), Dinesh Chandimal, Dimuth Karunaratne, Thisara Perera, Jeewan Mendis, Rangana Herath, Sachitra Senanayake, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Kulasekera, Dushmantha Chameera.
Afghanistan (from): Mohammad Nabi (Captain), Aftab Alam, Dawlat Zadran, Mirwais Ashraf, Nasir Jamal, Saimullah Shenwari, Gulabdin Naib, Javad Ahamadi, Najibullah Zadran, Nawroz Mangal, Shapoor Zadran, Afsar Zazai (wk).
Never in the history of Sri Lankan cricket has a win against a minnow in the nature of Afghanistan been so vital.
To gain a foothold in the run-up for the 2015 ICC World Cup it is paramount that Sri Lanka win this match at the University Oval; Dunedin today (22), scheduled to begin at 3.00am Sri Lanka time.
The situation was compounded when Bangladesh, another team that Sri Lanka is expected to win against, looked to gain vital match points thanks to cyclone Marcia which inundated the Gabba in Brisbane, Australia.
The match delayed by rain was likely to be washed out.
Both Australia and Bangladesh have won their opening matches against England and Afghanistan respectively.
Team wise there are very few changes that the Lankan team could make for this game.
The solid Lankan top five would remain the same, and the batting at numbers six and seven are the Lankan team management’s problem.
However it is likely that both Dimuth Karunaratne and Jeevan Mendis (whose batting prowess has been rated over the abilities of Dinesh Chandimal) will be retained in the playing Xl.
The only change in the final XI could be that of the six-foot tall, 23-year-old Dushmantha Chameera who is the second fast bowler after Greame Labrooy, to represent Sri Lanka from Maris Stella College Negombo, will be given the green light.
The Lankans have the advantage where the conditions are concerned with them being stationed in New Zealand since Christmas last year.
But, they also should not forget during their last meeting the Afghanistan attack restricted them to 253 for 6 – when the Lankans were on a high and went on to win the Asia Cup in Bangladesh, last year.
Winning the toss and batting second may be an option because there would be early movement.
Yet the fast outfield and short boundaries mean runs can also flow freely.
If the Lankans bat first and tame the Shapoor Zadran and Hamid Hassan lively new-ball attack it will be ideal for preserving wickets for a late-innings assault.
The weather is set fair, although is again likely to be a few degrees below generally what both teams are used to.
The Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews is also concerned – he said “We know Afghanistan are a positive, aggressive outfit. You can't take them lightly and we'll be playing our best XI.”
Early this week Rumesh Ratnayake, the Lankan consultant fast bowling coach who was requested stay on with the outfit for the entirety of the tournament said that he was working hard to fine tune the Lankan bowling strategies. He said “I wanted them to come out with ideas. Every ball is a plan. They have come out with plans saying – ‘If I bowl this ball and he hits me here, I have a Plan B’.
“We’ve spoken of that, and even spoken of a Plan C. Some of them have come out of their shells and done that. They might look very timid and quiet, but when you talk to them about planning, we got a good enough input. It’s about knowing their weaknesses and their strengths. They know what they need to be doing if it goes wrong.”
In their lost game against New Zealand last week, Suranga Lakmal was the best seamer by far for Sri Lanka, but, what they would be hoping is that Lasith Malinga could rekindle some his lost fire and get back on the road.
Strategy wise this game is very important to the Lankans. This is a good opportunity to put all what they have discussed worked upon in the aftermath of the defeat to a real match situation and the opposition is the best that they hope for that situation.