Afghanistan can take a lot of heart from their performance against Sri Lanka in the World Cup today. Much closer than the 129 run defeat in the Asia Cup a little under 12 months ago, they gave Sri Lanka an almighty scare when bowling, but it was Afghanistan's batting earlier on that had let them down.
Sri Lankan captain Angelo Matthews won the toss and chose to put the Afghans in at the University Oval in Dunedin. Afghan openers Javed Ahmadi and Nawroz Mangal both contrived to throw their wicket away just after starting to look well set, and Afghanistan were on 40-2 in the tenth over.
Asghar Stanikzai and Samiullah Shenwari then put together a useful partnership, scoring slowly at first before picking up the pace. They were looking well set, perhaps able to take the total up towards 270-280. But shortly after reaching his fifty, Stanikzai threw his wicket away mistiming a shot to cow corner and was caught in the deep, ending the partnership on 88.
Shenwari similarly threw his wicket away - after scoring 38 - when he chipped the ball straight to skipper Matthews at mid-off. The rest of the Afghan batsmen didn't really manage to get a start other than Mirwais Ashraf, who scored 28 from 32 to provide some late innings impetus.
The final Afghan total was 232 when their last wicket fell in the 50th over. Not as good as it could have been given the position Stanikzai and Shenwari manoeuvred themselves into, but an improvement from their last game against Sri Lanka when they were bowled out for 124.
The Sri Lankan reply started disastrously when Dawlat Zadran had Lahiru Thirimanne out lbw from the first ball of their innings. Shapoor Zadran then had Tillakaratne Dilshan caught behind in the next over and Sri Lanka were 2-2 in the second over. The Afghan bowlers stayed on top early on, and with Sri Lanka on 51-4 after 12 overs, Afghanistan were arguably favourites.
Mahela Jayawardene and Angelo Matthews then rebuilt the Sri Lankan innings with a 126 run partnership for the fifth wicket. The pair took Sri Lanka to 177-5 in the 41st over before Matthews fell for 44. Jayawardene reached his century before he became Hamid Hassan's third victim in the following over.
With Sri Lanka needing 54 from 52 balls with four wickets in hand, the game was very much in the balance at that point. But Thisara Perera put paid to any Afghan hopes of a win with 47 from just 26 balls to secure a four wicket win for the Sri Lankans.
Afghanistan would have been kicking themselves that they didn't get the extra 20-30 runs they needed when batting, which may have been enough to ensure a famous win. Nevertheless, this match has continued the trend of the games involving associates being more exciting - and more competitive - than those involving only full members. Does anyone really want to see less of this at the next World Cup?
Afghanistan will next be in action when they take on Scotland at the same venue on Thursday.
Sri Lanka beat Afghanistan by 4 wickets
University Oval, Dunedin, 22 February
Afghanistan 232 (49.4 overs, Asghar Stanikzai 54, Samiullah Shenwari 38, L Malinga 3-41, A Matthews 3-41)
Sri Lanka 236-6 (48.2 overs, M Jayawardene 100, T Perera 47, A Matthews 44, Hamid Hassan 3-45)