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'Never seen' such T20 consistency as Gunathilaka's - Rajapaksa

The left-handed opener leads the LPL run charts by 173 runs

Danushka Gunathilaka tries the scoop  •  SLC

Danushka Gunathilaka tries the scoop  •  SLC

Danushka Gunathilaka's Lanka Premier League form has been astounding. In eight innings, his lowest score was 30 not out off 15 balls, in a rain-shortened match. In the remaining seven innings, he has passed fifty four times, and eclipsed 80 twice. He averages 77 and is the tournament's highest run-scorer by a mammoth 173 runs, which means his tally of 462 is a 60% improvement on that of the next-best batsman.
Captain Bhanuka Rajapaksa was full of praise, ahead of Gladiators' semi-final against Colombo Kings on Sunday.
"I've never seen a player being so consistent throughout a T20 tournament. He's been a big plus point for us. He was the lone fighter from the batting department who took us into the semi-final. He's also been a finisher for us in the last two games. He's given the whole batting unit confidence. We have big hopes for him in the semi-final, and may he continue his good work."
Gunathilaka's flood of runs also hasn't come at the cost of a strong strike rate. But although his strike rate of 145 is impressive, there is a quirk to these stats - he has struck only eight sixes to his 64 fours. Each of the next three batsmen on the run-scorer's list have hit 14 or more sixes. Meanwhile, only one batsman in the whole tournament has hit even half of the number of fours Gunathilaka has managed.
Gunathilaka is generally an effortless hitter of sixes, but said that he made a conscious effort to keep the ball on the ground through the LPL.
"I think from ground to ground you have to change the way you play as a batsman, and everyone must have seen that on this ground, the outfield is incredibly fast - I knew that as soon as I watched the first match," Gunathilaka said. "The moment you hit the ball in the gap it travels very quickly. So I thought that rather than trying to hit sixes, I can reduce the risks I'm taking by hitting the ball along the ground. There are a lot of fours on offer when the ground is this hard."
While Gunathilaka has almost certainly been the player of the tournament so far, his team had struggled badly for most of it. Gladiators lost each of their first five matches, before finally getting themselves on the points table with a victory over one of the tournament favourites - Colombo. They've since been more competitive, sneaking into the semi-final on the back of a strong win over Kandy Tuskers in what was essentially a quarter-final. It had been their fielding that had let them down, before the win against the Kings, Gunathilaka said.
"We thought that at some point our middle order will come right, but then I felt that the major problem was our fielding. There was not enough effort. I thought we were giving an extra 20 runs in each of the first four matches. So we thought we had to field well first, before anything. And that's what changed in the match against Colombo Kings. We took our catches and our ground fielding was good. We won that match with our fielding. I think across the tournament, a few teams have lost matches with their fielding, and we're trying to catch up."

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf