SL vs Afg 2022-23 – Sri Lanka need all the Super League points they can get, as Afghanistan ODIs kick off

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.

So why should we care?

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.

Afghanistan are in a relative pretty good place. Having played only half of their Super League games, they are on 100 points, having won 10 games and lost two (so far their opponents have been Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Netherlands and Ireland). This puts them seventh in the Super League – essentially on the point of qualifying. Three victories here could well seal their World Cup place.

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.

Their best ODI run in recent times – the victory over Australia in a series of five games this year – did not count for the Super League at all.

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.

Struggle to watch
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.

The caveat is that 46 of Rashid’s bowling innings have been against Zimbabwe and Ireland – teams he has absolutely dominated. But even against the likes of Pakistan, the West Indies or Bangladesh, his record is much more impressive than Hasaranga’s, who is often an economic spinner, but not a pervasive one at this format. However, Hasaranga did claim the best numbers in his career 4 for 58 against Australia, in the last ODI series he played, so he will hope his ODI trajectory has shifted.

Mujeeb Ur Rahman also has significantly better numbers than Maheesh Theekshanaaveraging 23.43 per wicket to Theekshana’s 33.40, though their economic rates are both excellent, a tick either side of four.

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

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