Leading wicket-takers Samit Patel and Maheesh Theekshana with 16 wickets apiece
By Sa’adi Thawfeeq
|Leading run-getter Kusal Mendis with 327 runs
| Jaffna Kings led by Thisara Perera retained the LPL title for a second year.
By conducting another successful Lanka Premier League amid COVID-19 restrictions and health protocols that are in place, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) has unquestionably proved that they are capable of hosting any major international cricket event including the World Cup without any hindrance.
It is no easy task to run a tournament for three weeks involving so many people from overseas, not only the players but also the support staff of each of the five franchises and also the television crew, etc., without even a single incident of an individual being tested COVID positive that would have jeopardised the entire tournament.
Prior to staging the LPL-2, SLC had successfully hosted inbound tours by Pakistan ‘A,’ Bangladesh Under-19, England Under-19 and West Indies, so it was no surprise that LPL-2 went through quite efficiently, conducted in a professional manner that it should be exemplary to other countries.
The difference between LPL-1 and LPL-2 was that the cricket-starved spectators were allowed into the stadiums to witness the matches both at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo and the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Stadium in Hambantota. Even though only 50% of the stadium›s capacity was allowed, virtually all the matches were well attended, with SLC telling us that all tickets priced between Rs. 300 and Rs. 1,000 for the final in Hambantota were sold out.
One cannot compare the LPL which is in its infancy stages to the other established franchise tournaments around the world like the IPL, BBL and CPL to name a few, but a start has been made after a stutter in 2012 and two successive editions have been completed effectively.
SLC Vice President Ravin Wickramaratne who is handling domestic cricket said, “The LPL was more competitive than last year and the good sign was that Sri Lankan companies got involved, like the National Lotteries Board which came as League Partner and Softlogic, which acquired the Colombo Stars franchise. There was a Sri Lankan connection to two other franchises – Jaffna Kings whose owner Allirajah Subaskaran is a Sri Lankan born in Mullaitivu and Dambulla Giants whose co-owners are Qamar Khan and the family of former university cricketer Dr. Sarath Seneviratne.”
One of the several international players who participated in the tournament was former Pakistan cricketer Shoaib Malik, who represented champion team Jaffna Kings.
Having played in franchises around the world and appeared in 461 T20 matches, Malik said: “If I compare this year’s tournament with last year, it’s a lot better in terms of everything. For example, the players and things which were not properly organised last year, not because people didn’t want to, they always wanted to see everything in place, but comparatively from last year everything has improved massively. I guess the league is going in the right direction and most importantly it is to get a lot of talent to the Sri Lankan cricket team. I can see that so many young players have done really well in the tournament. I guess confidence is something which brings success in the dressing room or within the team. I have seen a lot of changes and improvements as compared to last year.”
Bhanuka Rajapaksa, the captain of Galle Gladiators who finished runner-up, was of the view that it was a tournament that showcased young talent.
“Last year we saw the emergence of Maheesh Theekshana and Dhananjaya Lakshsan and this year Janith Liyanage who is a good stroke maker. The experience of playing under lights is also good for us as players. The more they play under these conditions is how players mature. Holding a tournament like the LPL benefits Sri Lanka cricket a lot because we have in front of us about five to six T20 World Cups in the next seven years or so. To organise a tournament as the LPL we must give credit to SLC and IPG and the Galle Gladiators franchise whose efforts have been the secret to our success. This tournament is a good benchmark for the youngsters to showcase their skills.”
Even players from the outstations had an opportunity to play in the LPL and rub shoulders with international stars.
“We are in the process of unearthing cricketers like Vijayakanth Vijaskanth from Jaffna, the north and the east. We have already made arrangements to identify a few potential cricketers from these regions and give them opportunities to come to Colombo and join certain clubs like Tamil Union so that they get the facilities and coaching sessions to help develop them to the next level,” said Jaffna Kings Director and Team Manager Harry Vaheesan.
“The tournament was welcomed by all the cricketers. We have unearthed cricketers who were never seen and never performed in front of a crowd and got global exposure. We hope that they will continue their careers and finally represent Sri Lanka,” said Wickramaratne.
“A special thanks to Professor Arjuna de Silva and his team for allowing us to conduct a COVID-free tournament. We appointed a medical team and there were five doctors assigned to the five teams, three for bio-bubble management and they came directly under Professor Arjuna de Silva and Dr. Daminda Attanayake.”
The tournament allowed the three Sri Lankan cricketers currently serving international bans to actively participate in matches since June. None made full use of the opportunity than Kusal Mendis of Galle Gladiators, who ended the tournament as its leading run-scorer, accumulating 327 runs at a strike rate of 148.63 from 10 matches.
Danushka Gunathilaka also of Galle Gladiators who scored that blazing half-century in the final finished with 226 runs at a strike rate of 129.88.
The third suspended player Niroshan Dickwella had a rather ordinary tournament for Dambulla Giants, scoring 151 runs from 10 matches.
Wickramaratne said that IPG, the official rights holder of LPL till 2024, had managed the tournament very well and that they had made all the necessary payments due to SLC. The players’ payments he said had all been paid by the respective franchises. He also revealed that the five franchises would have spent at least around Rs. 1 billion for players’ fees, logistics and air tickets which was a boost to the country’s economy.
“We had the backing of the SLC ExCo headed by Shammi Silva and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa to conduct this event successfully. We thank the Sports Minister for his ideas and guidance given to SLC from time to time before and during the tournament.”
LPL-3 is scheduled to take place in August 2022.