Kings have won six of their eight games and will enter as firm favorites, while the Gladiators won just two
So four teams out of the five that play the Lanka Premier League have reached the semi-finals. Doesn’t that make the league stage seem a bit pointless? The Galle Gladiators have won just two league games, while the Colombo Kings have won six. Is that fair? Look, don’t ask tough questions. This is a fledgling tournament in a pandemic year. We decided to give them a free pass. So here, swallow this preview.
Road to the semifinal
Galle Gladiators lost a group of captains even before the tournament started, and landed hard on the LPL, Danushka Gunathilaka did everything he could to get them out of the impact crater. They were abysmal in their first five games, dropping (by rough count) a trillion sacks and filtering frequent limits. Gunathilaka and Azam Khan played some good innings during this period but were unable to undo the damage that Galle’s bowlers and fielders had inflicted.
However, something changed before their second match against Colombo Kings, and they have been good ever since. In part, this is Mohammad Amir’s search method. He has taken eight wickets in those games and went at a cheap rate of just 5.5 in 12 overs. Dhananjaya Lakshan, Lakshan Sandakan, and Nuwan Thushara have also made contributions during this period. More importantly, his field improved dramatically.
Kings of Colombo they might be upset about the risk of losing a semifinal to a team that won just two of eight league games, when the Kings won six. However, they will be encouraged that their attack is nearing the end of business. Qais Ahmad has been outstanding in the middle. Dushmantha Chameera has been great for them too, rushing hitters with his pace. Andre Russell’s hitting production declined in the league stage, but his bowling alley improved: He has eight wickets and delivered several crucial overs.
They clearly come in as favorites to win this game. Beyond the biggest names, they also have Laurie Evans (subject to fitness) who is the only centurion in the tournament, as well as the experience of Isuru Udana and Angelo Mathews, and the versatility of Ashan Priyanjan. Offspinner Tharindu Kaushal hasn’t taken a lot of terrains, but he has cast some tweaked spells for them as well.
Danushka Gunathilaka, is the top scorer in this tournament for so much distance, it’s a bit ridiculous. His total of 462 runs in the tournament is 173 runs better than Laurie Evans, who is in second place, who has 289. Gunathilaka has not made less than 30 in the entire tournament and his hit rate has been 145.
Qais Ahmad he’s been fearless when hitters have tried to hit him, constantly throwing him to beat them on the fly and take 11 wickets, the second-highest wicket count so far. Its economy rate of 6.46 is also outstanding. In the final game, Ahmad also defeated Dambulla Viiking with the bat, beating 50 in 22 deliveries to seal the final league game for the Kings.
Laurie Evans suffered an abdominal injury in the last league game and was forced to retire injured. Captain Mathews said his availability was not yet confirmed on the eve of the match. If he doesn’t play, Lahiru Udara is the player most likely to appear in the higher order, instead.
Gladiators have two injury problems: round-arm fast pitcher Nuwan Thushara and hitter Chadwick Walton. Neither was ruled out on the eve of the game either. They have Hazratullah Zazai and Mohamed Shiraz as cover,
- Gunathilaka’s tally of 64 fours is nearly double the amount any other hitter has hit in the LPL. King’s Dinesh Chandimal is second with 34.
- Although Evans is second in distance on the scorers list, his hit rate of 170 is better than Gunathilaka’s of 145.
- Gladiators leading spinner Lakshan Sandakan has been penetrating, taking eight wickets, but also costly, going for 9.47 in his 21 overs.
- King’s oldest hitter, Mathews, has made just 63 runs in this tournament with an average of 10.5 and a strike rate of less than 100.
Gladiator captain Bhanuka rajapaksa
“The campaign was very demotivating at times. We could have easily won three or four games. But morale is very high now after the (virtual) quarterfinals against Kandy Tuskers.”
Kings Captain Angelo Mathews
“Unfortunately I have not hit the bat in this tournament. But I was gladly carried out by the team. From Laurie to Qais, everyone has taken the load off me. I am disappointed, but I hope I can do well in the semi-finals.”
Andrew Fidel Fernando is the ESPNcricinfo correspondent in Sri Lanka. @afidelf