By M. Shamil Amit
Cricket is said to be a game of uncertainties, and much like the game itself the Lanka Premier League (LPL) has had its ups and downs ever since the idea was first mooted by Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC).
After a number of postponements, the league officially kicks off today, with the Colombo Kings and Kandy Tuskers squaring off in the opening game at 8p.m. at the Sooriyawewa Stadium in Hambantota.
The LPL was slated to be played in July this year, but the outbreak of Covid-19 in Sri Lanka resulted in it being pushed back repeatedly, with SLC even contemplating shifting the tournament overseas with the strict 14 day self-isolated quarantine proving to be a stumbling block in attracting foreign players.
Franchise owners also faced uncertainties as overseas players picked at the player draft held in October began to pull out, with the likes of Chris Gayle, Liam Plunkett, Dawid Malan, Faf du Plessis, Colin Ingram, Carlos Brathwaite, Sarfaraz Khan and David Miller all withdrawing due to injury, personal reasons or being selected for national duty.
Sri Lanka’s own T20 icon Lasith Malinga also made himself unavailable due to a lack of preparation, having been tipped to take over the captaincy of the Galle Gladiators franchise after Khan pulled out.
The franchise’s management then turned to Shahid Afridi to lead the team, though he will now miss the opening few matches having missed his flight to Sri Lanka.
Colombo Kings coach Dav Whatmore also pulled out, with his replacement Kabir Ali withdrawing after testing positive for Covid-19 with Herschelle Gibbs taking over the role, having initially been part of the television commentary panel.
But the efforts put in by SLC, backed by the Minister of Sports and officials of the Ministry of Health, has seen the tournament become a reality.
Today’s match will see the league’s biggest overseas name Andre Russell taking centre stage for the Colombo franchise led by Angelo Mathews.
Having paired Russell and Mathews together, the Kings will have the benefit of two quality all-rounders, allowing them flexibility in naming the rest of their XI.
The Colombo Kings have in their ranks Daniel Bell-Drummond, the highest runs scorer in England’s most recent T20 Blast tournament, while Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Udara, Laurie Evans, Ashan Priyanjan gives them formidable options in the top and middle order.
The Kings also have a variety of spinners to choose from with Qais Ahmad, Jeffrey Vandersay, Tharindu Kaushal and Amila Aponso in their squad, supported by fast bowlers Isuru Udana, Dushmantha Chameera and Dhammika Prasad.
The Kandy Tuskers, captained by Kusal Janith Perera, were badly hit by the withdrawals of Gayle and Plunkett, and the participation of Sohail Tanvir remains uncertain as he was one of two players who tested positive for Covid-19 on arrival to Sri Lanka.
They will get a boost however with Brendan Taylor and Dale Steyn coming in as replacements.
Their top order will almost definitely feature the captain alongside Kusal Mendis, with all-rounders Seekkuge Prasanna and Asela Gunaratne adding some middle order fire power.
In the bowling department they have the experience of Indian duo Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel alongside Nuwan Pradeep, Ishan Jayaratne and Lasith Embuldeniya.
Kandy Tuskers: Kusal Janith Perera (c), Brendan Taylor, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Sohail Tanvir, Kusal Mendis, Nuwan Pradeep, Seekuge Prasanna, Asela Gunaratne, Naveen Ul Haq, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Kamindu Mendis, Dilruwan Perera, Priyamal Perera, Kavishka Anjula, Lasith Embuldeniya, Kevin Kottigoda, Vishwa Fernando, Lahiru Samarakoon, Nishan Madushka, Chamikara Edirisinghe, Ishan Jayaratne, Dale Steyn
Colombo Kings: Angelo Mathews (c), Manpreet Singh Gony, Andre Russell, Laurie Evans, Daniel Bell Drummond, Isuru Udana, Dinesh Chandimal, Amila Aponso, Ashan Priyanjana, Ravinderpal Singh, Qais Ahmad, Dushmantha Chameera, Jeffrey Vandersay, Thikshila De Silva, Tharindu Kaushal, Lahiru Udara, Karim Khan Sadeq, Dhammika Prasad, Himesh Ramanayake, Kalana Perera, Tharindu Ratnayake, Navod Paranavithana