By Srian Obeyesekere
From the cast of the lone warrior upstaged by the opposition in a string of lost causes, Dhanushka Gunathilaka emerged gladiator like in the thunder of a match winning unbeaten 66-ball 94-run semi-final redeeming emphatic 9-wicket pay off for the Galle Gladiators over Kandy Tuskers in a decisive must win D/N Lanka Premier League contest at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Stadium at Sooriyawewa, Hambantota on Thursday.
The 29-year old Gunathilaka reigning from start to finish accounting for more than three quarter of Galle Gladiators 130 for 1 off 17 overs chasing down Kandy Tuskers 126 off 20 was certainly the Player of the Match hurrah ecstasy of a fairytale type of comeback from the dumps for a side that had been made to look like rag doll stuff for a good part of the tournament. The opener’s stellar knock packed with 12 boundaries and 4 sixes underwrote the destructive batsman Gunathilaka is for that uncanny ability to smash the ball around in the Sanath Jayasuriya mould that has seen him play some stellar innings for his country as well. That he has thus battled his way back into contention from the recent sidelines in his career is indeed the undiminishing inherent glint of gold breathtaking stroke play the left handed opener is blessed with. In that run gallop of 82, 56, 38, 30, 46 and 94, four of which were lost, Gunathilaka’s final effort has put his side a step away from the final. He also tops the batting as the highest scorer in the tournament thus far. In the pay off contest, he put on 101 for the first wicket in 14.3 overs with Hazratullah Zazai who made 20 off 34 hitting a six and boundary.
Thursday’s victory thrust was built around a superb all-round effort with the Gladiators skipper Bhanuka Rajapaksa’s decision to put the Tuskers in to bat paying off with his opposite number Kusal Janith Perera back in the pavilion for a duck LBW to Thushara – 1for 0 and 2 for 9 soon after with Thushara claiming his second wicket that of Rahmanullah Gurbaz for 4 to a catch to Shehan Jayasuriya. The Tuskers were in deep trouble sliding to 5 for 86 off 2.3 overs when Arachchige trapped Asela Gunaratne LBW for 12 with the batting caving for 126 with only Kusal Mendis holding strong with a 42-ball 68 hitting 4 sixes and 6 boundaries. He was seventh out with the total on 124 off 17.4 overs. The bowling honours were shared by N. Thushara 2 for 8, Mohammad Amir 2 for 11, S.S.D. Arachchige 2 for 24 and D. Lakshan 2 for 32.
KANDY TUSKERS 126 19.1 Overs RR: 6.57
(B.K.G. Mendis 68, B.R.M. Taylor 20, D.A.S. Gunaratne 12, I.K. Pathan 11, N. Thushara 2/8, Mohammad Amir 2/11, S.S.D. Arachchige 2/24, D. Lakshan 2/32.
GALLE GLADIATORS 130/1 (17 Overs) RR: 7.64
(M.D. Gunathilaka n.o. 94, Hazratullah Zazai 20, Ahsan Ali n.o. 2)