Unlikely finalists battle for maiden SLPL title
August 31, R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo
Start time 2000 (1430 GMT)
Before the tournament, few would have imagined either Nagenahira Nagas or Uva Next would reach the final, let alone both at once. On paper, Ruhuna Royals boasted bigger overseas stars, Basnahira Cricket Dundee the better local talent, and Wayamba United the X-factor players. Yet, the finalists have each performed at crucial moments to earn their passage.
Both sides have ridden their fortune too. Nagenahira were lucky that a washout in the semi-final against Kandurata Warriors granted them automatic qualification, but were luckier still that the resurgent Kandurata were unable to play Uva Next in their round robin match on Saturday, robbing Kandurata of the chance to leap above them on the points table and go through to the final instead. For Uva, Jacob Oram's all-round brilliance happily coincided with an off-colour Wayamba show on Tuesday, in the heist of the tournament.
Nagenahira will have the psychological advantage of having beaten Uva comfortably on Monday, and are slight favourites. They may lack for a few star names, but they have relied on a few key players to lift the side. Imran Nazir's blazing starts and Angelo Mathews' calculated finishes have provided formidable bookends to their innings, while the attack has taken its cues from Shaminda Eranga and Ajantha Mendis.
Bowling, meanwhile has been Uva's forte. Following his three-wicket haul in the semi-final, Oram is now not only the league's most miserly bowler with an economy rate of 3.94, he is also only one scalp short of being among the tournament's top wicket-takers. Umar Gul may not have been picked for Pakistan's ODIs against Australia, but his yorkers remain fearsome at the death, while Sachithra Senanayake and Seekuge Prasanna provide both variety and penetration with spin. If the Uva attack can topple Nazir early and silence Mathews towards the end, they will be favourites to win the trophy after qualifying fourth for the semi-finals.
Path to final
Nagenahira Nagas - Four wins and two losses in the round robin, qualified for the semi-finals at second place. Through to final on points after Wednesday's semi-final was abandoned due to rain.
Uva Next - Three wins, two losses and one draw (match abandoned due to rain) in the round robin, qualified for the semi-finals in fourth place. Through to the final after defeating top-placed Wayamba by 20 runs.
Watch out for
Ajantha Mendis (Nagenahira) has reclaimed a spot in Sri Lanka's World Twenty20 side through a strong SLPL performance and seems to have rediscovered the accuracy that saw him demolish international sides at the beginning of his career. He has added more flight to his deliveries as well, and his mystery remains largely intact in a domestic tournament that lacks the video analysis resources available at the top level.
Dilhara Fernando (Uva) is tipped to return for the final, after missing all but three matches through injury, and will augment an already impressive seam battery. Fernando has the only five-wicket haul in the SLPL, and his split-finger slower ball still deceives batsmen who have played him for years. Overs from him at the beginning of the innings will allow the captain Thilina Kandamby to reserve more of Gul's yorkers for later.
Nagenahira will be without Mushfiqur Rahim, who left the country on the eve of the final to join the Bangladesh tour to the West Indies, extending the trend of overseas players leaving for national duty just as the tournament reaches its climax. TM Sampath is likely to take over the gloves instead.
Nagenahira Nagas (probable) : 1 Imran Nazir, 2 Udara Jayasundera, 3 Travis Birt, 4 Colin de Grandhomme, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt), 6 Angelo Perera, 7 TM Sampath (wk), 8 Suraj Randiv, 9 Shaminda Eranga, 10 Ben Laughlin/ Kanishka Alvitigala, 11 Ajantha Mendis
Gul and Fernando having recovered from their niggles, Uva have a fully fit squad to choose from. None of their major players have left the tournament either.
Uva Next (probable): 1 Dilshan Munaweera, 2 Upul Tharanga (wk), 3 Thilina Kandamby (capt), 4 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 5 Chinthaka Jayasinghe, 6 Andrew McDonald, 7 Jacob Oram, 8 Sachithra Senanayake, 9 Seekkuge Prasanna, 10 Umar Gul, 11 Charith Jayampathi
Stats and trivia
- Shaminda Eranga and Ajantha Mendis have taken 11 and 10 wickets respectively. The remaining Nagenahira bowlers have 14 between them
- Jacob Oram's most expensive figures, 1 for 22 from three overs, came against Nagenahira
- Dilshan Munaweera is the only batsman from either team among the tournament's five top runscorers, with 168 runs and a strike-rate of 135.
Pitch and conditions
Three days of heavy rain in the lead-up does not bode well for the final, particularly as scattered thunderstorms are forecast for Friday evening. A shortened final may well be on the cards. The Premadasa pitch may also be more conducive to swing, having had precious little sunshine to dry it out over the past week.
"I don't think Jacob [Oram] gets the new ball much when he plays for New Zealand. We've given him the new ball here and he has become a totally different bowler."
Uva captain Thilina Kandamby on what he thinks has been the key to Oram's success at the SLPL
"I always try to give myself a chance to bat till the end because I know I can catch up later on. I know how to approach the game from that position and go about finishing off an innings."
Angelo Mathews on the playing role he has made himself good at over the last two years.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.