Road to the semi-final
Dambulla Viiking have had the look of a dark horse from early in the LPL. Although Jon Lewis was dropped as coach long before the tournament began, he had done Viiking a favour by making some smart local picks in the draft. And despite an early judder or two, when the batting was a little flimsy, they've found a formula that works for them, striding to an impressive five wins from seven completed matches.
They've been buoyed the finishing of Dasun Shanaka, the third-highest run scorer of the LPL, with 273 runs at a strike rate of 164. But they've also benefited from some smart captaincy from him, as he has learned to wrangle a trio of finger spinners - Samit Patel, Malinda Pushpakumara, and Ramesh Mendis - to excellent effect (they have 18 wickets between them). They lost their only completed match to Jaffna Stallions, but come into the knockouts with more momentum.
Jaffna Stallions were the strongest team in the first 10 days of the competition, winning each of their first four matches with ease, as Thisara Perera lit up the late overs, and a varied attack consistently kept oppositions to below-par totals. In the second half of the league stage, though, Thisara wasn't quite as effective with the bat, and the remaining batsmen failed to compensate. Since becoming the first team to qualify for the semis, Stallions haven't won a match. Partly, this is due to to their experimenting with less-experienced players. But the fact remains they have been a little light on match-winning performances from the top five.
But let's talk about their attack. Wanindu Hasaranga is the league's top wicket-taker. Usman Shinwari has brought bustling pace, and Suranga Lakmal has delivered control in his five matches. Dhananjaya de Silva, who has been one of Sri Lanka's most useful spinners in the past two years, has perhaps been underused with the ball, however.
Watch out for
Wanindu Hasaranga, who has not only taken 13 wickets, he's also gone at a stunning 5.48 an over, in addition to making 112 death-overs runs at a strike rate of 184. He's also been a mentor for 19-year-old legspinner Vijayakanth Viyaskanth through the course of the tournament. His googly has been devastating. In general, he has seemed like a bowler Sri Lanka can build a white-ball attack around over the next few years.
Samit Patel has maybe been the most impactful senior pro at the LPL. He's hit 179 runs at a strike rate of 140, which isn't spectacular, but certainly useful. He's been more consistent with the ball, having taken seven wickets, and maintained an economy rate of just under eight. According to Shanaka, he's also been a fount of information and advice to the younger players in the team.
For Stallions, Dhananjaya de Silva is likely to return to the XI after being rested for the last two matches. Jaffna-bred legspinner Viyaskanth probably won't play, partly because they have a superior leggie in the XI with Hasaranga. Stallions have a decision to make on the foreign player front as well. Does Tom Moores keep wicket, or does Johnson Charles remain behind the stumps (neither have been great with the bat so far)?
Viiking, meanwhile, have a slew of local players to consider. Does Sachindu Colombage play? What about Pulina Tharanga? And does fast bowler Lahiru Kumara deserve a place after being expensive in two of his three matches so far? Either way, seam bowler Kasun Rajitha is almost certain to return to the XI after being rested in the last game. As is allrounder Ramesh Mendis.
- Not a single bowler with an LPL wicket has a better economy rate than the tournament's most penetrative bowler, Wanindu Hasaranga.
- Viiking's Ramesh Mendis has taken five wickets and gone at only 6.87 with his offspin in five bowling innings.
- Among the top six LPL runscorers, Shanaka is the only one that bats lower than No. 3.
Viiking captain Dasun Shanaka:
"We have variety in our attack, and that's really important in T20, because batsmen have certain types of bowlers whom they find difficult. It's an advantage that we were able to give so many players opportunities through the tournament, because when it comes to the semi-final I can pick the players that we need for that game."
Stallions captainThisara Perera:
"We have five or six match-winning players in the team, and if they click we will have a good game. In the first four matches, one of those players put their hands up and won the match for us. I think one of them will win it for us in the semi-final also."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf