Qais Ahmad celebrates after scoring the winning run
The group stage of the Lanka Premier League (LPL) ended the same way it started – with an absolute run-fest and the Colombo Kings involved in it.
While the opening match of the tournament resulted in a Super Over win for the Kings, after the Kandy Tuskers tied in pursuit of a 220-run target, on Friday the Colombo franchise successfully chased down 204 losing four wickets, against the Dambulla Viiking.
An extraordinary half-century from leg-spinner Qais Ahmad, who earlier had figures of 2 for 23 in his more proficient skill, proved pivotal in yesterday’s result, confirming the Kings’ position at the top of the points table and setting up a semi-final against the Galle Gladiators on Sunday.
The final match total of 408 runs for the combined loss of seven wickets would indicate that there was little joy for bowlers, and that was indeed the case as only five of the 14 bowlers that both sides collectively utilized returned economy rates in single digits. And that a bowler with the best economy rate also ended with the highest batting strike rate and the most impactful innings, reflects the wild nature of the match, with the Kings at one stage requiring 76 off 42 deliveries and yet getting it with seven balls to spare.
That both teams chose not to play their preferred XIs perhaps reflected that neither was desperate for the top spot, but the Colombo Kings went a little further in ostensibly indicating that point, resting Isuru Udana and Andre Russell.
When the Dambulla Viiking where plundering runs, it appeared that they lacked the intelligence and nuance of Isuru Udana’s bowling, and when they needed those 76 runs off seven overs, it seemed like a situation tailor made for Russell.
At that stage, the Kings had just lost their last all-rounder of a known quantity in Thikshila de Silva, contributing 31 off 15 in a fifth-wicket partnership of 49 with Ashan Priyanjan.
Mathews was nursing an injury, with his hamstring heavily strapped up, and perhaps he thought that the risk was not worth the reward to personally try and swing the game in his team’s favour.
In came Ahmad, with a batting average of 13 and a previous career-best of 33, and next to no expectation that the Kings would actually win the match. But such is the nature of T20 cricket, that what the Kings got instead was a 22-ball half-century that made light work of the pace of Lahiru Kumara and the craft of Anwar Ali, both at the receiving end of Ahmad’s five sixes.
He had 19 runs off his first 15 balls, when he launched Kumara straight down the ground for his first six, getting a single off the next ball to retain strike for the 19th over with 23 still required.
Ali then missed his lengths and was punished by Ahmad who carted him for sixes over the long-off, cow cover, long-on and the deep midwicket boundaries to take the Kings past the Viiking’s total.
In the end, Ahmad’s innings overshadowed Laurie Evans’ half-century from earlier in the innings, a continuation of his good form from Thursday, when he created a bit of history as the LPL’s first ever centurion.
Evans didn’t seem phased by the dismissal of opening partner Dinesh Chandimal in the fourth over of the chase, reaching his third 50-plus score of the tournament in just 24 balls. He got there with back-to-back sixes, though it also resulted in him pulling a stomach muscle and retiring hurt.
The Kings slipped from 72 for 1 to 79 for 3 – 79 for 4 effectively, with Evans’ retirement – and a once promising start began to lose shape.
The fifth-wicket partnership between Priyanjan and de Silva followed, with Priyanjan milking the boundaries where possible, and looking like the Kings’ last hope for victory.
But it was an honour Ahmad would not allow him to claim.
At the half-way point, Dambulla would have been pleased by how their top order had warmed up for the semi-finals, with three partnerships of 50 or more runs contributing towards their total of 203.
Samit Patel was promoted to open the innings and it might be something the Viiking would be tempted to persist with it, watching him and Niroshan Dickwella plunder 48 runs off the first four overs.
That run-glut compelled Mathews to introduce his main bowling weapon, the leg-spin of Ahmad, earlier that he usually does, and it brought with it back-to-back breakthroughs. Patel dragged on a googly and the left-handed Upul Tharanga was trapped leg-before wicket for 0.
But those were the only successes the Colombo bowlers would have for the next ten overs, with Dickwella and Angelo Perera putting on 94 runs, and the former reaching his half-century in 32 balls.
He added 15 off the next seven balls he faced, before top edging Mathews to short third man.
Perera kicked on, reaching his half century in 39 balls, and with Dasun Shanaka struck up a 59-run partnership, proving particularly fruitful in the last fours overs, where 55 runs flowed off the last 24 balls.
The Kings finished with six wins and 12 points from their eight matches. The Viiking won five matches for 11 points, with one of their league stage matches being washed out. They will face the Jaffna Stallions in Monday’s second semi-final.