Andrew Fidel Fernando, in ESPNcricinfo 15 December 2020
How the teams stack up
On the surface Galle Gladiators don’t deserve to be in this final. They’ve won only a third of their matches in the tournament, and their semi-final opponents suffered several injuries in Sunday’s nail-biter. And yet, when you look at the attack they’ve suddenly managed to string together towards the end of the tournament, you can’t really begrudge them their place either.
Dhananjaya Lakshan, who swings the ball into the right-hander substantially, and bowls a collection of slower balls, has been perhaps the find of the tournament. Nuwan Thushara, who slings it round-arm like Lasith Malinga, has been effective with the new ball, and at the death. Lakshan Sandakan has found a T20 strategy that seems to be working for him: frequently pushing the ball wide, while also bowling quicker through the air than he used to. Mohammad Amir has led the attack, revelling in the swinging conditions the tournament has seen over the past week. As if by magic, Gladiators have three of the top five wicket-takers in the tournament, Sandakan having taken 11 wickets, while Lakshan and Amir have 10 apiece.
And yet, despite this, Jaffna Stallions feel their attack is still the best in the competition. Largely this is down to Wanindu Hasaranga, who has been the tournament’s middle-overs monster, taking 16 wickets in all and even more impressively, maintaining an economy rate of 5.27 across his 33 overs. To put that economy rate in perspective, no other bowler who has taken a wicket in the LPL can come close to matching it. Batsmen know it is his googly they have to watch out for, and yet have succumbed to it en masse.
There’s variety here too. Usman Shinwari‘s pace can be deployed almost anywhere in the innings. Duanne Olivier has been bowling much slower than he is capable of, but has worked on his control through the course of the tournament. And as seen on Monday, Dhananjaya de Silva is a fine supporting spinner, particularly when bowling to left-handers (Gladiators’ Danushka Gunathilaka and Bhanuka Rajapaksa are both leftie batsmen), and Shoaib Malik’s darts can be effective through the middle overs, and even at the death.
On the batting front, there is less to these sides. Gunathilaka has been in searing touch at the top of the innings for Galle, but although they scrambled to their modest target on Sunday, that middle order still seems a little flimsy. Stallions, meanwhile, have had runs from Avishka Fernando and Thisara Perera through the course of the tournament, but there’s no one in that line-up that can be said to be in irresistible form.
Watch out for
Gunathilaka v Stallions’ spinners
In the two previous matches against Stallions, Gunathilaka made 56 off 44 and 38 off 30, and was dismissed on both occasions by Hasaranga. In the final, he may have to face a different spinner before he even gets to Hasaranga, though. Stallions deployed Dhananjaya de Silva’s offspin at the top of the innings on Sunday, to excellent effect, and perhaps they will do so again to target Gunathilaka in particular.
Mohammad Amir v Avishka Fernando
If there is one team Fernando has enjoyed playing against in this tournament, it has been the Gladiators. He made 92 not out off 63 against them in their first match, and 84 off 59 in the second. Stallions haven’t played them since Amir’s bowling came to life late in the league stage, however, and Fernando has been a nervy starter against pace. If there is swing in the air, this shapes as an intriguing battle.
Head to head
Gladiators are sweating on the fitness of Chadwick Walton and Thushara. Walton, who has pulled a hamstring, is not likely to play, but captain Bhanuka Rajapaksa said he would consider having Walton in the side if he was at least “75% fit”. Thushara, meanwhile, had played the semi-final with a niggle, which may have worsened the injury. He will be assessed on ahead of the match.
Galle Gladiators (probable):1 Danushka Gunathilaka, 2 Ahsan Ali, 3 Bhanuka Rajapaksa (capt.), 4 Azam Khan (wk), 5 Sahan Arachchige, 6 Shehan Jayasuriya, 7 Chanaka Ruwansiri, 8 Dhananjaya Lakshan, 9 Mohammad Amir, 10 Lakshan Sandakan, 11 Nuwan Thushara
Stallions are understood to have a full squad to pick from. It’s likely they will go with the same XI.
Jaffna Stallions (probable): 1 Avishka Fernando, 2 Johnson Charles (wk), 3 Charith Asalanka, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Thisara Perera (capt.), 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Chaturanga de Silva, 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Usman Shinwari, 11 Duanne Olivier
Stats and trivia
Galle Gladiators took their wickets at an abysmal average of 49.05 until their fifth game – easily the worst in the league. In their four most-recent matches they’ve taken their wickets at 18.78, which is easily the best.Wanindu Hasaranga has bowled 97 dot balls in his 33 LPL overs. This means almost half his deliveries have been dots or wickets. He’s only conceded eight sixes and nine fours.Danushka Gunathilaka’s tournament run tally of 475 is 227 better than that of Stallions’ most prolific batsman, Avishka Fernando.When the LPL franchises went on sale, Galle was the first to be snapped up, by Quetta Gladiators owner Nadeem Omar.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf