Sri Lanka were then led by Dinesh Chandimal who unfortunately had to miss the ongoing Asia Cup with a hand injury.
Today Angelo Mathews will be hoping for a similar turnaround from his beleaguered team when they take on high riding Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi in a contest the Lankan skipper termed as a “do or die” game for them.
On Sunday in their Asia Cup curtain-raiser Sri Lanka suffered a humiliating 137 runs defeat at the hands of Bangladesh and the five times champions face an early exit from the tournament unless they beat Afghanistan by a big margin.
“We are definitely under pressure. We have got one life-line. It is a do or die game for us. Looking forward for it and it is a quick turnaround. We have got one day training and next day we are travelling to Abu Dhabi,” said Mathews.
“We have to click in all three departments. We cannot let go off one department as it could hurt us badly.” Sri Lanka were badly let down in their fielding and batting departments that contributed to their loss to Bangladesh. Sri Lanka batting coach Thilan Samaraweera put down the batting failure to “lack of options and clarity when under pressure”.
“We don’t lack skill. We are improving. Against South Africa the last three matches was a good improvement, but here again everything is back to square one,” said Samaraweera.
“We don’t start off competitions well and that has been evident in the last seven months. If you take the tour to Bangladesh, we lost the first two games. Then against South Africa in the first ODI we lost something like five wickets for 30 runs. We lost 60 for six yesterday.
“When they are under pressure, they lack options and clarity. The decision making becomes poor and they lack confidence. They were too scared to take decisions and they played with self doubt. We need to make their mental aspect right,” he said.
Mathews himself was guilty of starting the fielding rot when he floored a catch offered by Mohammad Mithun at mid-on before he had scored. Mithun was also given another relief at 2 when Amila Aponso made a similar spill at long leg but fortunately it was signalled a waist high no-ball. Lasith Malinga was the bowler on both occasions.
Worse was to follow when Mushfiqur Rahim was let off at 10 by Dilruwan Perera at square leg and at 85 – a return catch to Dhananjaya de Silva.
Both batsmen capitalised on these fielding lapses and made Sri Lanka pay dearly for it. From two down for one run they took the total to 134. From there onwards Bangladesh gained the ascedancy to pile up a competitive total of 261.
Mithun made 63 but the most damaging knock came from Mushfiqur who hit a career best 144. The innings of the former Bangladesh skipper overshadowed the fine spells of bowling produced by Malinga who ended up with figures of 4 for 23 in 10 overs.
The 35-year-old speedster returning to the international stage after one year bowled with the venom that had made him one of the most feared fast bowlers in one-day cricket. From Sri Lanka’s view point it was the only positive that came out of the match for them.
The balance of the side also left much to be desired leaving Sri Lanka with one specialist batsman short.
“We had to change our combination looking back at the South Africa series. After Danushka’s (Gunathilaka) and (Dinesh) Chandimal’s injuries we had to change a few things,” said Mathews.
“We went one batsman short as Dilruwan (Perera) can also bat. But the bulk of the batting has to be done by the top order and we let the team down. Unfortunately we made a few bad decisions while batting,” he said.
Dilruwan more of a Test player than in the one-day format came as a replacement off spinner for Akila Dananjaya who was not available for the first game. Dilruwan however did not fit the bill as he spilled a vital catch and conceded 25 runs in his three overs without taking a wicket although he contributed with 29 which was the highest score made by a Lankan batsman.
“We knew that there were a couple of guys whom we had to be aware of. We knew that when we made the decision,” said Mathews. “Obviously the fast bowlers are putting a lot of effort. We went in for some experience and when you are trying to balance the side you need both experience and youth. It didn’t go our way. Dilruwan is playing a game after a long time. You have to make less mistakes moving forward.”
Gambling with middle-aged cricketers Sri Lanka paid a heavy price on the field.
“It is just that we are not consistent. We have one brilliant day and one extremely poor day. That cannot happen in a tournament. If you lose one game you are under a lot of pressure,” said Mathews.
“We have let the opposition off the hook. We had them three for three and then with the next two batsmen having scored less than ten runs we dropped them. They really cashed in. But as I keep saying, 260 we take any day and the batters let us down.”
Afghanistan return to the tournament as a full member having been beaten to the sole qualifier’s spot by the UAE in the 2016 T20 edition of the Asia Cup.
The odds of them lifting the trophy are still at some distance, but they are far from rank outsiders this time round. The audacity and pluck they showed in 2014 is now an assured, even arrogant confidence.
In March, at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, they booked a berth at the diminished Cricket World Cup 2019 ahead of two other full members – Zimbabwe and Ireland.
The last time Sri Lanka and Afghanistan met in an ODI was in the 2015 World Cup where the minnows gave the Lions a fright before losing by four wickets. Chasing 233 to win Sri Lanka were 18-3 before recovering to win in the 49th over.