Final of inaugural LPL between Galle Gladiators and Jaffna Stallions today
By M. Shamil Amit
The Lanka Premier League (LPL) will crown its first champion today, when the Jaffna Stallions, led by Thisara Perera, face the Galle Gladiators, captained by Bhanuka Rajapaksa, in the final.
The match will be played at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium in Hambantota, and will begin at 7.00 p.m.
The Gladiators beat pre-tournament favourites the Colombo Kings in a last over thriller in the semi-finals while the Stallions recorded a convincing win over the Dambulla Viiking.
The Stallions’ semi-final win was built on a strong bowling performance after their batsmen threw ahead a strong start, setting the Viiking a target of 166.
Johnson Charles and Avishka Fernando had given the Stallions a 68-run opening wicket partnership, who were later sitting pretty on 111 for one at the end of the 13th over.
But things unraveled after that, with the Stallions losing wickets for 55 runs in the next seven overs.
Stallions’ Captain, Perera acknowledged the middle order failure but said it also validated how strong their batting line-up was.
“We have a deep batting line-up. There are games where the top order has not performed and the middle-order has bailed us out. That allows us to give the top order the license to be aggressive and then depending on the situation for the middle-order to adapt. It is the same expectation and plan we have for the final as well,” Perera told the media in a video conference yesterday.
“We are confident after that semi-final win but T20 can also be a one-man show and the game can be taken away from us by one player. We just need to minimise the number of mistakes and the team that does that is usually the team that wins.”
Despite winning their first four matches of the tournament, the Stallions finished third in the points table while the Gladiators, who lost their first five matches, pipped the Kandy Tuskers to the semi-finals in their last match of the group stage.
The Stallions are strong in both their batting and bowling, with one or the other stepping-up and contributing in their victories.
Opener Fernando is the Stallions’ leading run-scorer of the tournament with 248 runs while Perera has made 222 runs, though a majority of those runs came in the early stage of the tournament – each having scored two half-centuries.
Their stand-out star in the LPL however, has been leg-spinner and all-rounder, Wanindu Hasaranga, who is the tournament’s leading wicket-taker with 16 wickets, and has an economy rate of 5.27.
Fast bowlers, Duanne Olivier (9), Usman Shinwari (7) and Suranga Lakmal (7) have also been among the wickets for the Stallions.
Their biggest challenge in today’s final will come from Danushka Gunathilaka, who is the tournament’s leading run-scorer.
He played a big part in the Gladiators putting together a run at the back end of the group stage that saw them make the semi-finals and was unlucky to miss out on a century in their last league against the Tuskers, when he finished on an unbeaten 94 off 65 balls.
In all, Gunathilaka has 475 runs in nine matches, at an average of 67.85, and is the only batsman with more than two half-centuries to his name. He also has 186 runs more than the second highest run scorer of the LPL, Laurie Evans of the Colombo Kings. Apart from Gunathilaka, Rajapaksa, Ahsan Ali and Azam Khan have been among the runs.
Their bowling has been led by the experienced Mohammad Amir, who has come to form ever since Nuwan Thushara was brought into the team.
Dhananjaya Lakshan has arguably been the revelation of the tournament, using his change of pace to good effect and creating a challenging three-pronged pace attack for the Gladiators. The introduction of Thushara had been a boon to the bowling attack, Gladiators Captain Rajapaksa reiterated.
“We didn’t have anyone to support Mohammad Amir at the start of the innings so Thushara has really given the team some balance.”
Thushara picked up an injury during the Gladiators’ last group match against the Tuskers and is still yet to fully recover despite playing in the semi-final.
It is the only main injury concern for the Gladiators.
“We don’t have a reason to change anything. Thushara is still not a 100 percent fit and he is one of the changes we might have to make if he is not fit enough,” Rajapaksa added.
Thisara Perera (Captain), Avishka Fernando, Johnson Charles, Charith Asalanka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Shoaib Malik, Duanne Olivier, Usman Shinwari, Chathuranga de Silva, Dhananjaya de Silva and Suranga Lakmal.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa (Captain), Danushka Gunathilaka, Azam Khan, Ahsan Ali, Shehan Jayasuriya, Chanaka Ruwansiri/Chadwick Walton, Sahan Arachchige, Lakshan Sandakan, Dhananjaya Lakshan, Nuwan Thushara and Mohammad Amir.