The captain blasted 39 off 14 balls while Malik turned in an all-round show in a comprehensive win against Galle Gladiators
How the match played out
A strong opening stand, a cool-headed 69-run partnership between Shoaib Malik and Dhananjaya de Silva, finishing fireworks from Thisara Perera and an utterly dominant bowling effort – Jaffna Stallions were by a distance the best team in the final; a winning margin of 53 runs was an apt reflection.
The only nervous passage of play for Stallions were the early middle overs, after they lost the top three for 26 runs, in the space of four overs. Dhananjaya and Malik – both calm and experienced accumulators – were exactly the right batsmen to rebuild, however, and they played their parts beautifully, unambitiously picking up the singles against Galle Gladiators’ spinners at first, before taking calculated risks as the partnership developed.
Dhananjaya made 33 off 20, hitting two sixes and two fours in his innings. Malik went on to 46 off 35, and was out only in the 18th over. Between them, they had given Stallions’ innings its spine.
The big death-overs blows were dealt by Thisara, whose thundering 39 not out off 14 required more muscle than usual, as Gladiators’ bowlers delivered plenty of slower balls at him. Unusually for Thisara, more than half of those runs (23) came on the offside. Which suggests that Gladiators didn’t bowl all that badly at him.
Gladiators were always going to struggle to get to 189 in a final, but were dealt huge blows inside the first two overs, after which even a competitive chasing effort seemed unlikely. Hazratullah Zazai holed out against the bowling of Dhananjaya first over, and then the hammer blow, and perhaps the most controversial moment of the match – the run-out of Danushka Gunathilaka.
As the tournament’s top run-scorer by a distance, Gunathilaka’s performance was always going to be key to Gladiators’ batting effort, but in the second over, he collided with Suranga Lakmal mid-pitch, and what should have been a comfortable leg bye, ended with him being run-out at the non-strikers’ end for 1.
Lakmal hadn’t crashed into him intentionally, but had strayed into Gunathilaka’s path while appealing for an lbw (which was rightly turned down). In the ensuing chaos and disorientation, Gunathilaka even ran in the wrong direction for half a second, before making a desperate run at the non-striker’s crease. But Thisara swooped in from midwicket and ran him out. When Lakmal had Ahsan Ali caught behind chasing a wide, seaming delivery, Gladiators had slipped to 7 for 3.
Some valiant blows were struck in desperate hope. Bhanuka Rajapaksa had injured his side in the field, but walloped four sixes in a 17-ball 40 to try and revive Gladiators’ chase. Later, Azam Khan hit 36 off 17, targeting mainly the fast bowlers, even as the required rate climbed to 12.
Stallions’ bowling was too good, though. They held back their strike seamer – Usman Shinwari – until the 10th over. The tournament’s best bowlers – Wanindu Hasaranga – didn’t arrive at the bowling crease until half the innings had been completed, and delivered another fine spell taking 1 for 18 off his four overs.
Gladiators kept losing wickets and their innings petered out.
Stars of the day
Malik not only gave substance to Stallions’ innings, he also claimed two wickets – including that of Rajapaksa, in his three overs that went for only 13.
For Gladiators, Dhananjaya Lakshan’s three wickets were a bright spot. Those dismissals took him up to 13 wickets from seven bowling innings – second only to Hasaranga’s tally.
Stallions’ innings momentum had slowed by the end of the 11th over, by which time no boundaries had come off the previous 21 balls. But having played themselves in by now, Malik and Dhananjaya took the innings by the collar, and struck 45 runs off the next three overs. By the time they were parted, the run rate was up near nine again, and a total of more than 180 was in view.