You're not dreaming. This is not a fantasy. After years of announcements and cancellations, years in which Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) officials lumbered into organisational walls and stumbled into logistical potholes, Sri Lanka fans will finally get to watch a homegrown franchise T20 league. The build-up has been chaotic. Players have pulled out late, others have contracted Covid-19, replacements have been hastily found, payments have been demanded, quarantines completed and a flight has even been missed. It's been an anarchic whirlwind, but in a way, there is no better precursor to cricket in Sri Lanka. It's less than 48 hours until the first game begins. So here, have a preview.
How good are they looking? (With the caveat that as most Sri Lanka players have not had high-level competitive cricket since March, form is going to be almost impossible to judge.)
For starters, Colombo Kings have the two biggest names in the tournament, and from the looks of it, were the biggest spenders. Andre Russell's presence gives the whole league a sheen of desperately needed glamour, while they also have Mathews, who is the most recognisable Sri Lankan player following the exit of Lasith Malinga. But these are not just names. If both Russell and Mathews are available to bowl, the Kings give themselves versatility with the ball, as well as solid firepower through the middle order, which could be the makings of a fine T20 side.
There's also a strong spin department. Afghan legspinner Qais Ahmad, and local spinners Tharindu Kaushal (offspin), Amila Aponso, and Jeffrey Vandersay each have varying strengths. The top order will likely feature Daniel Bell-Drummond, who topped the run-scorers' list in England's T20 Blast tournament this year, where Laurie Evans racked up impressive numbers from the middle order.
This is not to say there are no serious challenges. Dinesh Chandimal, who will almost certainly keep wickets, hasn't been a top T20 performer in years, and despite the presence of Isuru Udana and Dushmantha Chameera, the seam-bowling contingent seems a little shaky. But, this is a solid outfit.
Notable mishap (LPL should find sponsors for tournament gaffes): Dav Whatmore was originally slated to coach this team. He was then replaced (for reasons not known) by Kabir Ali. Kabir, though, tested positive for Covid-19 in England last week, and couldn't make the trip across. So Gibbs, who was flying across to Sri Lanka to work as a commentator for the tournament, was nominated as coach, and was informed of this on his arrival.
If Malinga had turned up relatively fit and firing, Gladiators might have reasonably claimed to have the best attack of the tournament. Now, with Malinga having pulled out last moment, Gladiators will hope Mohammad Amir has a great tournament, with Asitha Fernando also likely to be a key fast bowler.
On paper, Gladiators have Sri Lanka's best spinners, with Lakshan Sandakan and Akila Dananjaya both in the squad, but there is a little asterisk here. Dananjaya's just coming back from a one-year ban, which he copped due to an illegal action. He is understood to have brought his elbow up to code during that layoff, but how effective will the new action be?
Batting-wise, Danushka Gunathilaka and Hazratullah Zazai seem an imposing pairing at the top of the order, with Rajapaksa, Shehan Jayasuriya and Ahsan Ali also around. What might worry Gladiators is that they are light on seam-bowling all-round options. The middle order seems shaky as well, unless Afridi has a stellar tournament.
Notable mishap: Sarfaraz Ahmed was originally supposed to be the captain of this team, just as he captains the PSL's Quetta Gladiators - the team owner's other team. But then he went and got himself picked for Pakistan's tour to New Zealand. The captaincy subsequently went to Malinga, who clearly took the responsibility quite seriously and waited for the week before the tournament to announce that he wouldn't be playing. Afridi then inherited this chalice, and promptly missed a flight to Sri Lanka.
(Yes, Viikings with two 'i's. It's the brand name of the business that owns the franchise.)
Captain: They promise they will let us know when they decide.
There is a decent locally nurtured batting order here. Niroshan Dickwella, Upul Tharanga and Oshada Fernando are likely to take up residence in the top four, and will most likely be joined by the biggest foreign name in Viikings' ranks - Ireland opener Paul Stirling. For middle-order firepower, they've got Dasun Shanaka, Angelo Perera (a long-time domestic performer), Ramesh Mendis (a rising star in the domestic scene), and Afghanistan's Samiullah Shinwari.
Lahiru Kumara, who may be the quickest bowler in the tournament, headlines the attack, with Kasun Rajitha, Aftab Alam, and Sudeep Tyagi, the former India pacer who retired from all forms of cricket last week, for company. On the spin front, Samit Patel arrives fresh from a PSL runners-up stint with the Lahore Qalandars, while domestic stalwart left-arm spinner Malinda Pushpakumara is also on board.
On the surface, Viikings don't look the most promising team in the tournament partly because they seem light on superstar talent, and there aren't a lot of consistent T20 performers here either. But if their local batsmen fire, there is no reason they couldn't put up a strong campaign.
Notable mishap: Initially, when coach Jon Lewis drafted the majority of this team, they were known as the Dambulla Hawks. Then, a couple of weeks later, after Lewis had been jettisoned, they became the Dambulla Lions for a bit. Eventually, the Viikings group (who own a brewery in Goa, plus a bunch of other stuff probably), bought the franchise, and slapped their brand name on the team.
Tuskers have perhaps had the rockiest road into the tournament, having hit a serious speed bump last week when Chris Gayle withdrew, citing injuries. It had been hoped that between Gayle and captain Kusal Perera Tuskers could produce some serious top-order ballistics, but they will now have to do with the more staid kinds of innings that Brendan Taylor tends to produce. Rahmanullah Gurbaz (Afghanistan), Kusal Mendis and Asela Gunaratne are also likely to bat in the top six.
The team did get a late boost, when Dale Steyn was announced as a replacement for Sohail Tanvir, but beyond this there's not a lot of bankable talent, and Steyn will probably miss the first week in any case. It's been two years since Tuskers' Indian seamers - Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel - last played a T20 game. Fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep has been known to deliver good death-bowling performances, but the remainder of the prominent local bowlers - Vishwa Fernando, Dilruwan Perera, and Lasith Embuldeniya - have made their names as Test bowlers.
Notable mishap: Initially, Tuskers had picked Wahab Riaz and Liam Plunkett to lead their attack, before Wahab got picked for Pakistan's tour of New Zealand, and Plunkett pulled out citing injury. Then they chose Tanvir to beef up their pace stocks, but Tanvir tested positive for Covid-19 soon after arriving in Sri Lanka, and now has to be sequestered away in a separate hotel until he gets better.
Jaffna Stallions' strategy in the draft was obvious: to select a core of dynamic local players, around which to build the franchise. They were so committed to this strategy that two of their three marquee players were locals (Thisara Perera and Wanindu Hasaranga), when most teams opted to pick just one local marquee player. The result is a dangerous outfit. In addition to Hasaranga and Thisara, who can contribute with both bat and ball, Stallions also have Dhananjaya de Silva, and Chaturanga de Silva. Avishka Fernando, the most exciting top-order talent in Sri Lanka, and promising wicketkeeper-batsman Minod Bhanuka are in the squad as well.
Kyle Abbott, the former South Africa fast bowler, is the most notable name among the foreign players, with Usman Shinwari - the left-arm quick from Pakistan - and Duanne Olivier - Abbott's fellow Kolpak-deal maker also around. West Indies' Johnson Charles will probably open the innings, and Stallions have the experience of Shoaib Malik to call on in the middle order.
There are no notable specialist spinners here, though. Stallions are banking on Hasaranga and Dhananjaya de Silva having good tournaments with the ball.
Stallions were also the only team to run a training camp for their local players long before the foreigners began showing up. In general, they seem the most organised of the franchises so far.
Notable mishap: Stallions have avoided the worst of the upheaval that has characterised the lead-up to the tournament. But they did have one late withdrawal: Ravi Bopara pulled out after the franchise could not agree to providing him his full payment up front.