HISTORIC LPL 2ND SEMI-FINAL
By Srian Obeyesekere
High stakes make or break semi-final showdowns are all about the fittest who survive and the tough who get going when the going gets tough, and indeed this historic maiden 20-20 Sri Lanka Premier League (LPL) 2020 in its final canter holds nothing short of the trimmings of cricketing brains and brawn from inherent skill to reigning supreme in that final countdown.
That this short fad T20 version of the sport has largely turned the game on its head is its driving wonderment that has in the short span of just over two weeks of gung-ho infused between bat and ball of an aspiring cast of players divided into five teams in a baptism of the local version of the high flying Indian Premier League (IPL). Indeed, it is that huge fermenting clout in a mix of local and international stars with starry eyed, but steeled young local aspirants determined to make an impact, that in such a short span that has announced itself in the thunder of the Sri Lanka Cricket organised Sri Lanka Premier League in its lending effect to the semi-final stage; the decisive second day-night game between the Dambulla Vikings and the Jaffna Stallions taking off tomorrow Monday in the second semi-final playoff at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium at Sooriyawewa, Hambantota.
The lending tempo to the decisive showdown is the fluctuating fortunes of the two sides in getting there for the big spoil stakes. There was Thisara Pererera’s Jaffna Stallions in a high riding early tournament assault calling the shots to four successive wins to leading the points table before suddenly nose diving following two successive losses, the last by 6 runs to Colombo Kings in a high scoring game. They have descended from top two places to third place upstaged by Dambulla Vikings in second place which is the center piece weight lending element in the guessing game as to who would win Monday’s crunch game.
In that assessment, Dambulla Vikings have scaled the victory ladder with 5 wins from 6 outings including bringing down the high riding table leaders, Colombo Kings that must certainly be morale boosting going into tomorrow’s big contest. The inform opening batsman Avishka Fernando, with two Player of the Match awards from 59 downsising the Tuskers and 84 in the 5-wicket win over Galle Gladiators, will spearhead the Dambulla Vikings campaign to make it to the finals at the expense of the Jaffna Stallions. Skipper Dasun Shanaka too has been key to their success with 34-ball 56 in downing Colombo Kings which is hugely inspirational while his match winning 73 versus Kandy Tuskers is as high flying. What is insulating to the Vikings campaign is the depth in the batting – Upul Tharanga, Angelo Perera and Niroshan Dickwella who have also been in the thick of the runs with Samit Patel and Ramesh Mendis adding clout. The derring do of Samiullah Shinwari’s 20-ball unbeaten 46 salvo in the 4-wicket defeat of the Galle Gladiators last Wednesday is as reassuring while he has also proved to be a bowling match winner too. The bowling department is also well manned by Kasun Rajitha, Ramesh Mendis and Shanaka.
Meanwhile, despite two successive defeats in their last two run-up games at the hands of the exiting team Kandy Tuskers and table leaders Colombo Kings, Thisara Perera’s Jaffna Stallions, the huge offsetting redeeming inspiration is of having defeated their semi-final opponents by 66 runs when they first met. Therein, buoying on a personal note as well as the team would be the skipper’s scintillating 97 off 44, while with the second game was rained off in a 1 point sharing. Thisara’s 68 off 28 in downing Kandy Tuskers by 54 was as well dynamite when they previously won. The Stallions would need to tuck into the past the two losses in the big crunch game to make it to the mega final. But overly, the Stallions do possess a fire power outfit with the batting also revolving around two other consistent tournament performers with the bat in Dhananjaya de Silva who struck a 38-ball 68 against the Tuskers, and Pakistan star batsman Shoaib Malik who top scored with 59 in the 6-wicket loss to Kandy Tuskers when the two sides first met. Mallik’s presence in the Stallion ranks is a huge plus point having made other fair contributions with the bat while Minod Bhanuka, Moores and Charith Asalanka form the rest of the nucleus plus the all-round essence of Wanidu Hasaranga who has had a good tournament run. The bowling lies in the hands of Suranga Lakmal, Skipper Perera, Hasaranga, Dhananjaya de Silva, D. Oliver and Shoaib Malik.
On paper, despite the Jaffna Stallions two successive losses, the two sides look equally balanced, and in the final countdown, will Dasun Shanaka’s Dambulla Vikings produce the all-round cricket that has catapulted them to within striking distance of making it to the final at the expense of the Jaffna Stallions, or will the Jaffna Stallions reproduce the Stallion like overriding charge by which they led the rest that would carry Thisara Perera’s side into the finals?