Lasith Malinga grabs the limelight but Nuwan Pradeep turns the game

Afghanistan v Sri Lanka, World Cup 2019, Cardiff June 04, 2019

Two yorkers from Lasith Malinga crashed into the stumps and had zing bails light up the growing gloom around the Cardiff Wales Stadium and Afghan hearts, but by then Sri Lanka were as good as home.

An oxygen-depleted win but a win all the same in their second game of the 2019 World Cup. Against the event's sweetheart qualifiers, Afghanistan, by 34 runs (D/L method), which doesn't prove anything except give Sri Lanka valuable points and a breather - and certainly for Malinga, his first win after 21 ODI defeats and one NR since July 6, 2017.

WATCH - Highlights from the Afghanistan-Sri Lanka game on Hotstar (India only)

Sri Lanka's last ODI win against a frontline team outside of Asia was almost two years ago, against India at the Champions Trophy. In between then and now, purgatory, doubt, batting collapses (not that those have gone away) and one defeat after another.

Tuesday's win, says coach Chandika Hathurusingha gives the team the booster shot of confidence they needed. "We really needed a win. We haven't got much success lately... We need this badly."

The Sri Lankans were to make the single change that may be what is needed to alter their narrative. Even if that meant putting all their eggs in the one basket that Cardiff offered them - picking five seamers in conditions with clouds overhead that made the swinging ball sing. It was this fifth horsemen that was to prevent their apocalypse.

Nuwan Pradeep, hipster haircut, gunslinger walk, slinger action, biting pace and mean inswing - and left out on the weekend, turned up and did his job during the work week and produced his career-best ODI figures that made victory possible. Once it was done, the Sri Lankans gathered together in a huddle of relief, bunting Man of the Match Pradeep on his head over and over.

Captain Dimuth Karunaratne's grin was visible from a distance; never mind the fates and losing the toss again, his team had climbed out of the hole they had dug for themselves after recording the highest power play total of the competition and then imploding (7 for 36 in 11 overs.) Twenty runs across the last two wickets did take Sri Lanka past 200 but Hathurusingha said while the score had never seemed enough they had expected the seamers to "bowl well on the wicket, hit the deck hard and hit the seam". The innings break had not featured a pep talk but a talking-to: "I tell them what has to be done. That they have to come and perform."

It is what the Sri Lankan bowlers did; the 15 wides at the end of the innings will cost them heavily elsewhere, but the extravagance of the Afghan batsmen allowed them to get away with it. The key was to just to pitch the ball up or back of a length, depending on who disliked what, hit the pitch hard when required to create dot ball pressure and extract the error. Or as Thisara Perera put it, "Keep our line and length and don't panic." Isuru Udana and Pradeep, the least experienced of the five, were particularly efficient in tandem, Pradeep sending home the two most dangerous Afghan batsmen on the day - the first, opener Hazratullah Zazai and the second captain, Gulbadin Naib.

Hathurusingha said Pradeep had "single-handedly" kept Sri Lanka in the game. In conditions like Cardiff where the ball swings and often climbs, he finds himself in his element and there was no better day to put it out on display. Left-arm paceman Udana said of Pradeep: "He was the main man today he was the man who changed the game." Pradeep had never played with a cricket ball until the age of 20, was discovered through a soft-ball competition, and has had a career for Sri Lanka restricted by a series of injuries. His last ODI was against New Zealand in January, missing out on the March tour of New Zealand due to injury. On Tuesday in Cardiff, Pradeep was quick enough and sharp enough to be the bowler Sri Lanka required to give their world cup campaign the buoyancy it needed.

On our Smart Stats Forecaster, Naib's wicket brought down Afghanistan's win probability from 61% to just under 50%. When Mohammed Nabi went, it nosedived further from 44 to 28 and was spot on in predicting the trend of the contest. The Malinga yorkers were just the celebratory, flashy outlet Sri Lanka needed at the end of a tense game.

The combined experience of the senior seamers - Malinga, Lakmal and Perera have played 455 ODIs between them - was to help pass on wisdom and calmness to the younger two. Udana, playing only his seventh ODI, used his experience from the Bangladesh and Afghan T20 leagues to offer insights into the Afghan batsmen to his team-mates. Malinga's last two wickets with his signature yorkers were the Afghan Nos. 9 and 10 and ended the game, but it was Pradeep that had virtually dragged it out of Afghanistan's reach and imagination.

Sri Lanka on the field were far from ship-shape but they were to find moments of inspiration - Thisara's diving catch off Zazai on the long-leg boundary, Karunaratne's direct hit to run out Najibullah Zadran - that made them buzz, bouncing on the balls of their feet, backing each other up. There was Malinga, the angry lion in winter, patting Pradeep on the back after he conceded five wides in the 25th over in an attempt to bounce out the batsman. The Lankans had found the energy and the collective will to compete.

Hathurusingha hoped this game was going to change Sri Lankan ODI fortunes, especially at the event where it is most urgent and most noticed. When asked about Malinga's tongue lashing and whether he agreed with it, he said: "When you play for your country there is a lot of pride at stake. They are all hurting. I'm sure about that. They really, really want to perform well for the country. What Lasith said, whatever he said, is what he believes and I think all the players get a lot of confidence after this win for sure."

Now if only the batsmen could follow.

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