So we have arrived at another ODI series. While Tests enjoy the affection of the purists, and T20s set the world ablaze, bilateral ODIs have become the silent presence in the corner of the party. It used to be the cool kids, and occasionally they still have their moments. But when you think about the world of cricket, these are the series that seem the least stimulating.
Add to this the fact that Sri Lanka and Afghanistan have played surprisingly little cricket against each other for teams in the same global neighborhood and as such have not developed any tantalizing stories. When Sri Lanka plays against Pakistan, it’s all smiles and saccharine affection. When Afghanistan plays against Pakistan, you need extra security in the stands.
Sri Lanka vs Afghanistan? There isn’t much there. Yet.
Perhaps the greatest triumph of the ODI Super League structure is to give context to series like this. These three ODIs are in fact vital for both teams. The rules are that after 24 ODIs (four away series, four home series, three ODIs each) you must finish in the top eight of the 13 teams to automatically qualify for next year’s ODI World Cup. If you don’t, you have to play a qualifying tournament.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, need to win essentially all of their remaining six matches. After 18 games they have a paltry 62 points, which puts them in 10th place. The most likely outcome for them is having to play the qualifying tournament as they are likely to be in a three way battle with Ireland and South Africa to claim the final automatic qualifying spot. Even a rain-soaked match – which is quite possible in Pallekele in November – is a bad result for them.
What will the conditions be like?
In some ways, conditions in Pallekele could even out the bowling bouts. It’s one of Sri Lanka’s liveliest pitches for seam bowling, with the ball doing a lot under light, especially when there’s a bit of moisture around, as usual in November.
With Dushmantha Chameera likely to be out for several months after ankle surgery and Dilshan Madushanka still unavailable, the hosts’ attack will be led by Lahiru Kumara, with Kasun Rajitha likely to be the second option. Pramod Madushan is also available. Afghanistan, meanwhile, has Fazalhaq Farooqi, who has done well against Sri Lanka in T20Is, as well as southpaws Fareed Ahmad and Yamin Ahmadzai.
However, due to little more than familiarity with the conditions, Sri Lanka will hope they have the higher ground on the battle front. Since Afghanistan only arrived a few days ago, they have not had much time to familiarize themselves with the conditions.
The spinners of Sri Lanka against that of Afghanistan
Twenty-nine career ODIs, Wanindu Hasaranga is a decent one-day spinner, but not quite the phenomenon it is in T20Is. In this format he has 34 wickets in 31 matches, at an average of 35.55, although at a reasonable economic rate of 5.09. its counterpart, Rashid Khanhas corresponding numbers of 18.65 and 4.16.
However, Theekshana is only nine ODIs in his career and has already proven to be an excellent operator throughout the innings. There have been few situations, in various formats, where he seemed overwhelmed.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf