Galle Gladiators 175 for 2 (Ahsan Ali 56, Gunathilaka 38) beat Colombo Kings 171 (Bell-Drummond 44, Amir 5-26) by eight wickets
How the game played out
Sixth time is the charm it seems for the Galle Gladiators as they registered their first win of the Lanka Premier League, beating the Colombo Kings by eight wickets, to keep their faint hopes of qualifying for the semifinals alive.
The win was built on the back of reinvigorated performance in the field, which included a five-wicket haul from Mohammad Amir, a return to form for Lakshan Sandakan, and some more-than-competent catching in the deep.
Indeed, this performance with the ball was as needed as it was unexpected for the Gladiators, as an attack that had looked lethargic and uninspiring in their previous outings suddenly looked rejuvenated. While Amir was impressive as ever on his way to figures of 5 for 26, for once he was not alone in his efforts.
Among the biggest contributors was Nuwan Thushara, who had been drafted in for the expensive Asitha Fernando, and left many of those watching scratching their heads as to how it had taken five games for him to get a look in. With his round-arm slinging action, it was hard not to be reminded of Lasith Malinga, even if his pace did not quite hit the heights of Mali's early years. While he failed to pick up a wicket, his unorthodox action and ability to regularly find the yorker length, meant his four over spell went for a fairly economical 31 runs - 14 of which came off his final over, which was incidentally the penultimate over of the innings.
Tight opening spells from Amir and Thushara, meant the powerplay period saw just 46 runs given away, while both Kings openers, Laurie Evans and Dinesh Chandimal, were sent packing. The spinners then took control through the middle overs, as the need to up the scoring rate forced risks to be taken against the likes of Sandakan. This worked out just as the Gladiators would have hoped, with the leg spinner accounting for the prize scalps of Angelo Mathews, Ashan Priyanjan, and Andre Russell.
After that cameos from Daniel Bell-Drummond, Thikshila de Silva and Isuru Udana would take the Kings past the 150 mark, but Amir would return to dismiss all three, and restrict the Kings to a subpar 171.
The Gladiators chase was all but a formality once Danushka Gunathilaka, the tournament's top-scorer, got going, as he and Ahsan Ali put on a 97-run opening stand off just 63 deliveries. While there was a brief moment of panic after Gunathilaka was trapped LBW by Qais Ahmad, and then Bhanuka Rajapaksa was given out lbw the very next delivery, a smart referral showed the ball going over the top of Rajapaksa's off stump.
From there on though it was rather straightforward. While Ali would also fall for 58, Rajapaksa and Azam Khan would ensure the Gladiators would canter home with 15 balls to spare.
Stars of the day
If from this point on it all goes south for the Gladiators at least Mohammed Amir will have this day to look back on fondly. Against the team - well the team that employs Andre Russell, but there's no need to get into that again - that he had previously conceded (to put it mildly) 46 runs off two overs, he returned match-winning figures of 5 for 26. Following a string of good performances, for little to no reward, this had been a while coming.
But that Amir was so effective was down to his supporting cast, namely Sandakan who has had an indifferent tournament to say the least. But the attacking leg spinner is at his best, well, when attacking, and after his seamers had provided the platform, Sandakan provided the middle over penetration the Gladiators had sorely been lack in their previous games on his way to figures of 3 for 33.
Turning point
Considering the ultimately comfortable nature of the win, this is more a theoretical turning point than anything else, but considering the capabilities of Russell, you can imagine the Gladiators breathing a collective sigh of relief when he was dismissed at the end of the 13th over.
Where the teams stand
With players rested, this defeat will be nothing more than an annoyance for the Kings. As for the Gladiators, who looked impressive in all departments, at the business end of the tournament they will be very pleased that the tournament's unusual format has contrived to offer them redemption after such a horrendous start. The equation is simple, they simply need to keep winning.