Jaffna Kings 210 for 4 (Avishka 100, Gurbaz 70) beat Dambulla Giants 187 for 9 (Karunaratne 75*) by 23 runs
How the game played out
The first century of this LPL season courtesy Avishka Fernando, along with the second 200-plus score of the tournament, propelled the Jaffna Kings to a 23-run win over the Dambulla Giants to secure a place in Thursday's final against the Galle Gladiators.
That the margin of defeat was even that close, was down to a late onslaught from Chamika Karunaratne, who ended unbeaten on 75 off 47 deliveries - a knock that will leave the Giants wondering what might have been.
Indeed, with both bat and ball the Giants were wasteful in key moments. Having been set a gargantuan target of 211, too many of Dambulla's batters failed to build on promising starts. Phil Salt, the LPL's leading run-scorer, looked dangerous, but top edged a short, slightly slower one from Suranga Lakmal; Niroshan Dickwella looked like he was preparing to do some serious damage but then whipped out the reverse sweep to ill-effect; while Najbullah Zadran had tonked two sixes in his 15-ball 25, before top edging a heave over cover. If any of them had stuck around a little longer, maybe Karunaratne's knock might have been a match-winning one.
Then in the field, there were a host of misfields, while Rahmanullah Gurbaz - who would go on to lay waste to the Dambulla bowlers on his way to a 40-ball 70 - was dropped twice, once on 11 and the second time on 32. He would put on a 122-run opening stand with Avishka, and in the end the pair would account for 170 of the Kings' 210.
Even on a Sooriyawewa surface that saw the ball coming onto the bat nicely - a far cry from the rank turners seen in Colombo during the group stages - a score beyond 200 was still a fair bit above par. That paired with an inability to hold onto the chances they did create, ultimately proved fatal for Dambulla.
Stars of the day
Where else to begin than with that man Avishka? Ever since he broke onto the national stage at the 2019 World Cup, everyone behind the scenes at Sri Lanka Cricket have sought to crack the code on how to consistently get the best out of him. His supreme hand-eye coordination has been apparent since his youth, but at the highest level there have been concerns over him coming undone by top-quality pace and lateral movement.
A patchwork solution was found at this year's T20 World Cup, when he was shifted to the middle order, thereby allowing him to get his eye in before unleashing. This worked well in the first round, though he was unable to perform come the World Cup proper.
Here though, on a surface that wasn't offering much by way of lateral movement, Avishka's weaknesses were never likely to be tested. And so, he proceeded to wreak havoc on the Giants from the top of the order. His only real false shots came for his first boundary - a sliced drive on the up that ended up flying over the slip cordon - and his dismissal in the final over - top-edging a wide full toss to cover. In between he unleashed 10 fours and four sixes - two of which came off a Karunaratne over, the 18th of the innings, which he single-handedly plundered for 22.
At the other end was Gurbaz, who at times put even Avishka's belligerence in the shade. His knock though owed debt of gratitude to lady luck; twice he was dropped, both of which were relatively straightforward, if not exactly easy, chances. He took a particular liking to Lahiru Samarakoon, playing his first game of the tournament, taking him for two monster sixes down the ground in an 18-run eighth over. Though the pick of the shots was undoubtedly a skip down the track to hit Imran Tahir for a six that brought up his 50 off the just 28 balls. A hamstring injury briefly halted his innings, and he was out caught shortly after; the Kings will be hoping he'll be back and ready for the final.
Karunaratne meanwhile was the lone shining light for Dambulla. His savaging of the Kings bowlers, particularly Thisara Perera who he took for 21 towards the end of the innings, was never going to be enough considering the dire situation the Giants had found themselves in when he arrived at the crease, but it nevertheless brought about a sense of respectability to the final result, and probably more than a tinge of regret in the top and middle order. It was however a welcome reminder for Sri Lanka's selectors about what this man is capable of.
It's hard to pinpoint a turning point in a game in which two batters are responsible for 80% of the runs scored in a single innings. However, the Giants will no doubt be asking themselves what might have been had they held on to the chances off Gurbaz, or simply been a little bit better in the field. More than once, there were half chances at runouts which were not capitalised on, while the misfield count surpassed the wicket tally.
By contrast the Kings were on it from the get-go. While Tahir was dropping a skier from Gurbaz, there was Wanindu Hasaranga sprinting 40 metres and diving forward at full pelt to hold on to a similar chance offered by Salt.