Sri Lanka vs Afghanistan: Mathews elects to exploit overcast conditions in Dunedin

Angelo Mathews of Sri Lanka bats during the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand at Hagley Oval on February 14, 2015 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Getty Images)

Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews elected to make first use of the favourable bowling conditions by asking Afghanistan to bat after winning the toss in their World Cup match in Dunedin on Sunday.

The chilly, overcast weather prompted Mathews' decision, no doubt learning after hosts New Zealand reduced Scotland to 12 for four earlier this week at University Oval.

"It swings a little bit early on so we are looking to take advantage of the conditions," Mathews said.

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Beaten finalists at the last two World Cups, Sri Lanka have looked a side on the decline, far too reliant on the 'Big Three' in their batting order and with an attack not offering much threat outside of spinner Rangana Herath.

The return of Lasith Malinga for the first World Cup game against New Zealand should help them bowl sides out and he will be better for the experience as he gets back into the rhythm of games after ankle surgery last year.

The big question is whether Mathews can rediscover the form that made him one of the best players in the world last year.

Too often against New Zealand in January he failed with the bat and if his side are to be a threat deeper into the tournament they need him to take charge of games if Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene fail.

Teams

Sri Lanka
- Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Dimuth Karunaratne, Angelo Mathews, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Rangana Herath, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal

Afghanistan - Javed Ahmadi, Nawroz Mangal, Asghar Stanikzai, Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Nabi, Najibullah Zadran, Afsar Zazai, Mirwais Ashraf, Dalwat Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran

Preview

For a country that won the World Cup in 1996 and played in the last two finals, Sri Lanka have done a great job convincing everyone they have no chance of winning this time.

Their heavy loss to New Zealand in the opening match of the tournament only added weight to the theory they were a team past their best.

But not everyone is convinced Sri Lanka are a spent force, least of all their captain Angelo Mathews, who is relishing the chance of leading a team that won last year's Twenty20 World Cup but seems to be flying under the radar.

"As I said before the tournament, we are happy to walk into the tournament as underdogs," Mathews said.

"Not many people expect us to win but we know and we believe in ourselves that we can do it. The hunger is there... and the team certainly believes that we can do it."

Sri Lanka have had eight long days to reflect on their loss to New Zealand and plan to take out their frustrations on Afghanistan, who they play in Dunedin on Sunday.

The match looms as a classic David versus Goliath battle with the Sri Lankans expected to dominate an Afghanistan team that defied the odds just to qualify for the World Cup but were given a harsh reminder of the challenge they face when they were thrashed by Bangladesh in their first match.

Even so, Sri Lanka are not taking any chances. They not only need a win to restore their confidence but with run rates possibly coming into play later in the tournament, they need to be ruthless.

"Whether you play Afghanistan or Australia, every game is important, so we'll take every single game very seriously and play the best 11 possible on that day," Mathews said.

Resisting the temptation to rest some of his key players, Mathews is expecting a much better performance from a team who had spent the past week working on their fielding and talking about the importance of preserving wickets to build a big total.

"We are going to play three games in seven days and that's going to be a quick turnaround for us, so hopefully we can get the momentum from tomorrow," Mathews said.

That spells bad news for Afghanistan, the fairytale team of the competition, but their players have got a different goal, to be competitive in every game they play.

"We'll be trying to do our best against all full member nations to play positive cricket and have a good fight," Afghanistan pace bowler Mirwais Ashraf said.

Squads and officials:

Sri Lanka
- Angelo Mathews (capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Lahiru Thirimanne, Dinesh Chandimal, Dimuth Karunaratne, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Rangana Herath, Sachithra Senanayake, Dushmantha Chameera

Afghanistan - Mohammad Nabi (capt), Afsar Zazai, Usman Ghani, Aftab Alam, Asghar Stanikzai, Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Hamid Hasan, Javed Ahmadi, Najibullah Zadran, Mirwais Ashraf, Nasir Jamal, Nawroz Mangal, Shapoor Zadran, Samiullar Shenwari.

Umpires: Richard Illingworth (ENG), Chris Gaffaney (NZL)
TV Umpire: Johan Cloete (RSA)
Match referee: Chris Broad (ENG)
Weather forecast: Cloudy. Maximum temperature 21 Celsius.

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