Kandy Tuskers 151 for 4 (Gunaratne 52, Kusal 42, Hasaranga 2-23) beat Jaffna Stallions 150 by six wickets (Malik 59, Pradeep 3-36, Gunaratne 2-21, Steyn 2-33)
How the game played out
In a departure from the run-fests that have populated the Lanka Premier League 2020 so far, the Jaffna Stallions and Kandy Tuskers played out a rare low-scoring affair that eventually saw the Tuskers sneak a six-wicket win.
It was fittingly Asela Gunaratne, unbeaten on a 37-ball 52, who scored the winning runs - coming down the pitch to swat Duanne Olivier for a straight six off the first ball of the final over. That it was just the fourth six of the entire game tells a story, as both sets of players struggled to score fluently.
That it even came to that point was down to a combination of tight bowling and unambitious batting on the part of the Tuskers. Having done exceedingly well to limit the Stallions to 150, the Tuskers suddenly found themselves struggling to get ahead of the required rate.
Wanindu Hasaranga, who ended with figures of 2 for 23, was once again the standout threat, but it didn't help the Tuskers' cause that they lost three wickets inside the powerplay period for just 44 runs. Their response to that was to then eschew any sort of risk in their chase - though there was an incentive to get the runs quicker and leapfrog in the net run rate stakes the Galle Gladiators, whom they are competing with for a final semifinal spot.
In the end Gunaratne's cool head would prevail, putting on two consecutive 50-run stands with Kusal Perera and Irfan Pathan, to see his side through.
Earlier, it was once again Gunaratne that had made the difference, after his miserly four overs had given away just 21 runs and accounted for the wickets of Minod Bhanuka and Thisara Perera. Both those wickets came in a pivotal 13th over, after Bhanuka along with Shoaib Malik had resurrected an ailing Stallions innings.
Led by the finally available Dale Steyn, the Tuskers had reduced the Stallions to 3 for 50 in the powerplay period, before a slow-burn 59-run fourth wicket stand off 53 deliveries between Malik and Bhanuka brought forth consolidation - the plan clearly being to set the stage for a customary late assault from the likes of Thisara and Wanindu.
Gunaratne though would intervene, before Steyn would return to dismiss Wanindu cheaply to leave the Stallions reeling on 104 for 6 in the 15th over. Malik would do his best to up the scoring rate with a few boundary hits, but in the end with recognised batsman running out, he too would fall for a 44-ball 59. Fourteen runs off the final two overs would see the Stallions limp to 150, a score that was going to be hard to defend despite their best efforts.
Stars of the day
With figures of 2 for 33, a well-taken catch, and the introduction of a fishing-themed celebration, the Steyn effect on the Tuskers cannot be understated. Indeed, it was expected that Steyn's entry would add some much-needed firepower and potency to the Tuskers' bowling ranks, but it's his influence on his fellow bowlers as a result of his in-game nous and experience that really stood out. Steyn was seen constantly giving advice to his colleagues, and it's no fluke that it coincided with one of the most well-rounded bowling performances of the tournament.
At the other end of the speed spectrum lies Asela Gunaratne. While his bowling may be hard to describe, it's nevertheless effective. And with the bat, his mentality and composure in pressure moments makes him the ideal finisher. After a long spell out with injury, Gunaratne looks to finally be finding his best form.
For the Stallions, it seems they have had get-out-of-jail free cards right through out the tournament, and why not when you have game-changers such as Wanindu Hasaranga in your ranks. While Steyn ensured he wouldn't be able to do any damage with the bat, he more than made up for it with the ball; once again it was his control and variations, namely his excellent googly, that caused the opposition batters all kinds of trouble.
At 100 for 3, seven overs remaining, and Thisara and Wanindu still to come, the Stallions would have been relatively pleased with the situation. But in the space of two overs all those plans went out the proverbial window, as first Gunaratne dismissed Bhanuka and Thisara in the space of an over, and then Steyn took out Wanindu four balls later. The Stallions' innings never recovered after that.
Where the teams stand
The win sees the Tuskers go ahead of the Gladiators on points in the race for the final semifinal spot, but they still lag behind on net run rate. Regardless of whether the Gladiators win their next game or not, if weather doesn't intervene, it's all set for straight play-off between the two tomorrow.