Tillakaratne Dilshan remained unbeaten on 83 to guide Sri Lanka home in a stiff chase. © AFP

Tillakaratne Dilshan remained unbeaten on 83 to guide Sri Lanka home in a stiff chase. © AFP

Inzamam-ul Haq, the Afghanistan coach, believed a lack of experience cost his team in their ICC World Twenty20 2016 clash against Sri Lanka on Thursday (March 17).

Afghanistan showed spirit in getting over a poor start with the bat, with Asghar Stanikzai, the captain, smashing a 47-ball 62 to set Sri Lanka a tricky target of 154. Then, despite Tillakaratne Dilshan propelling the chase, Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan applied the brakes and pushed Sri Lanka to the very end. Eventually, Dilshan held firm to take the team through in 18.5 overs, hitting an unbeaten 56-ball 83.

The only Associate side in the Super 10s, Afghanistan were thought to have their best opportunity to win against Sri Lanka, who are the defending champions but have been through a rough patch of form off late. Though Afghanistan couldn’t win, their grit and determination won them admirers. Inzamam, for one, was all praise. “In my opinion, our team needed experience,” he said. “We were playing against the world champions. The boys played well, we gave them a tough time and could have even won, but Sri Lanka are an experienced side and they handled pressure the way they should’ve.

“My boys need some time. The more they play international cricket, the more exposure they get, the better they will perform. We batted and bowled well. There were a few lapses in fielding, but this is the pressure of playing in a big tournament. Against the defending champions, our performance was good. It should’ve been better, because we did not come to lose, but people here got to watch some good cricket.”

Inzamam was particularly thrilled with how his captain led from the front, and he drew parallels between Stanikzai’s knock and Dilshan’s. “The way Dilshan batted today, once he was set he took it till the end,” said Inzamam. “Our attempts were also that. The way Asghar batted, he was set and he took it till the end. It’s a good sign that the boys are improving and their batting is getting better.

“All the boys played well, and the captain played a good innings. A lot of small knocks were played, but they were all as per the team’s requirements. And the way the boys did not give up and kept fighting, it was good.”

The loss would be hard to stomach, but Inzamam wasn’t disappointed. “As far as motivation goes, the team has played very good cricket,” he said. “I am not disappointed, my team is also not disappointed. For the games ahead, we will try to give our 100 percent. Dilshan is a seasoned campaigner in T20s, he’s an excellent player. He played an innings where he single-handedly won the game for them. At half time, we thought we could win with 153, but Sri Lanka played a very good game.”

For his part, Dilshan said he was concentrating on guiding the chase all the way, but acknowledged just what a stern fight Afghanistan had posted. “It was a very good total,” he said. “It was not easy to chase, the wicket was a bit slow. That’s why after getting the start, I wanted to bat as long as possible. When new batsmen come in, it wouldn’t have been easy for them. That’s why I tried to finish the game. They batted really well, especially their captain. Halfway through we knew it wasn’t an easy total to chase, but one guy needed to bat through and that was the target.”

Dilshan was happy with the performance – “we needed a good start” – and admitted despite their recent problems, Sri Lanka could now have legitimate hope of doing well in the tournament. “We’re all confident players in the T20 game,” he said. “Any guy can put their hands up and do a job – bowler or batsman, it doesn’t mater. If we play good cricket any day, we can win. If we play our brand of cricket, we can beat any team. We’re looking to carry on the same positive way in the next couple of weeks.”