By Shehan Daniel at R. Premadasa Stadium
They may be a team whose core is made up of players who were deemed expendable during the player draft last month, but Colombo’s stars proved they still had the aptitude for the format in their four-wicket win against the Galle Gladiators in the Lanka Premier League (LPL) on Monday.
On another day, Dinesh Chandimal’s 26 off 27 balls would have done more harm than good to a team’s cause, but yesterday, in a low-scoring slugfest, where conditions made run scoring against spin particularly challenging, it proved match-winning for the Colombo Stars.
Chandimal struck just two boundaries in his innings, but they were the last eight runs his team needed to get over the line, and reach the 117-run target. Predictably, having been restrained by the spinners through his knock, the re-introduction of the Gladiators’ only pace bowler, Nuwan Thushara, at the death with 10 required, gave Chandimal the opening he needed to attack.
After Thushara went wide on the second ball of the 18th over – so wide that the keeper had to make an extra effort to keep it from going to the boundary -- and allowed Seekkuge Prasanna to take a single and get Chandimal on strike, the latter mishit a pull shot that flew behind the wicket off the top edge for a boundary. The next shot was more orthodox, driving Thushara through the covers to score the winning runs.
But to say that Chandimal had the biggest impact on the run chase would betray the contributions made by stand-in skipper Dhananjaya de Silva and more importantly David Wiese, who bravely took on Pulina Tharanga three overs earlier, scoring two sixes off the spinner.
Tharanga would get his own back, dismissing Wiese in his next over, but the 22 runs that the South African-born all-rounder scored off 16 balls, and the 31-run partnership with Chandimal, had brought the equation down to 14 off 24 deliveries.
De Silva, who had earlier bowled a brilliant three-over spell during the Powerplay of the Gladiator’s innings and held onto two catches, also contributed with the bat with 24 off 28 balls, inclusive of two boundaries, teaming up with Chandimal for a 27-run partnership for the fifth wicket.
Chandimal and Angelo Mathews, who is the captain of the Stars though currently out injured, represented Colombo, then known as the Kings, at the last LPL but were discarded by the new ownership of the franchise at the player draft last month. The other four franchises also passed on them, along with Kusal Perera, who played for the Kandy Tuskers and Dhananjaya de Silva, a member of the title-winning Jaffna Stallions team last year.
It led to Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) issuing a directive that these four players, and six others deemed deserving, be selected by the franchises. Another change of ownership however, resulted in all four of those players being selected by a rebranded Colombo franchise, and yesterday, Chandimal and de Silva with all their experience played a crucial role for the Stars.
That the game would be a trial of spin was evident in the first innings, when the Stars seemed to have the perfect bowlers to make the most of the conditions and smother the Gladiators.
De Silva took it upon himself to bowl half the powerplay overs, and his changes of pace and flight, and accuracy yielded just 15 runs in three overs. That all 15 of those runs came over the last four deliveries of his third over, ending a streak of 14-straight dot balls, underlining de Silva’s exceptional bowling during a phase of play that offers very little margin for error.
11 of those dot balls were bowled to Danushka Gunathilaka, the last of those proving to be the final straw for the batter, who was drawn forward by flight and left his crease long enough for Kusal Perera to complete a sharp stumping.
That wicket reduced the Gladiators to 6 for 2, after Dushmantha Chameera found Kusal Mendis’ outside edge in the previous over, the batter fishing for a drive on a delivery outside off, with de Silva diving to his left to take the catch.
The Gladiators were held to just 27 runs in the Powerplay, losing a third wicket to Wiese. A three over spell from Akila Dananjaya, with his variations in flight and delivery, continued pretty much where de Silva left off, conceding 18 runs but more crucially accounting for the wicket of Ben Dunk.
Dunk was an anomaly in this match, looking mostly comfortable in his innings, scoring a better rate than any of the other designated batters. He scored four of the six boundaries and the only six the Gladiators were able to score during his time in the middle, before he missed an attempted sweep and was adjudged out leg before wicket – a player review only confirming the on-field decision.
His wicket ended a 43-run stand with Samit Patel, though Patel’s contribution to that was just 12, but nonetheless proved to be the best partnership of the Gladiators’ innings.
Then there was the leg spin of Prasanna, who also proved difficult for the Gladiators’ batters to cope with, eventually taking the wicket of Tharanga and conceding 17 runs in his three overs.
Chameera, who is becoming proving his adaptably to bowl in any condition, took two wickets for 25 runs