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The draft for the third edition of the Lanka Premier League was held on Tuesday evening, with each of the five franchises allowed to pick six international players, with one from each price category barring Gold and Silver. Sri Lankan players were available for all categories. The pre-draft portion of the squad selection, however, meant that for many of the teams the top-tier draft picks had been decided well in advance of the draft proper.
The draft included players in seven price points: Ruby (US$ 60,000; approx LKR 21.5 million) Sapphire ($ 50,000; approx LKR 18 million), Diamond A ($ 40,000; approx LKR 14 million), Diamond B ($ 25,000; approx LKR 9 million), Platinum ($ 15000; approx LKR 5 million), Gold ($ 10,000; approx LKR 3.5 million) and Silver ($ 3000; approx LKR 1 million).
Here's how the teams stack up.
Who to start with than Jaffna Kings? Formerly Stallions, they are two in two in the LPL finals and are no doubt the team to beat. If you were to pinpoint the reason for their success, though, you would boil it down to shrewd team building, which has left the other franchises playing catch-up.
Their captain Thisara Perera, Avishka Fernando, Shoaib Malik, Suranga Lakmal and Wanindu Hasaranga formed the spine of the side that won the first LPL, and were integral parts of last year's campaign as well. Last season, Kings also identifed exciting young overseas as well as local talent in the likes of Jayden Seales, Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Maheesh Theekshana.
But all good things must come to an end, and this season will certainly put Kings' think tank to the test, first and foremost in navigating the losses of Hasaranga, Avishka and Lakmal. Hasaranga has been signed by Kandy Falcons, Avishka is out long-term with a knee injury and Lakmal has retired.
Still, Kings focused on rebuilding their core of the last two years as much as possible and picked Thisara (Ruby), Malik (Sapphire), and Theekshana (Diamond A) pre-draft and Afghanistan wicketkeeper-batter Rahmanullah Gurbaz in the draft.
Big-hitting West Indies opener Evin Lewis (Ruby) and South African quick Hardus Viljoen (Sapphire) were their two pre-draft signings as overseas players. The remaining overseas slots were taken by 23-year-old Pakistan quick Shahnawaz Dahani (Diamond B) and 21-year-old South African wicketkeeper-batter Tristan Stubbs.
Their fans will also be excited by the inclusion of allrounders Dhananjaya de Silva (Sapphire) and Dunith Wellalage (Diamond B), their captain at the U-19 World Cup earlier this year. Both were signed pre-draft as direct local signings.
Squad: Evin Lewis, Thisara Perera, Hardus Viljoen, Dhananjaya de Silva, Shoaib Malik, Shahnawaz Dahani, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Maheesh Theekshana, Binura Fernando, Dunith Wellalage, Tristan Stubbs, Praveen Jayawickrama, Suminda Lakshan, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Dilshan Madushanka, Nipun Dananjaya, Vijayakanth Viyaskanth, Theesan Vidushan, Theivendiram Dinoshan, Ashan Randika
Twice Gladiators have made the title round, and twice they have lost. The second defeat might have hurt more than the first, not necessarily for the nature of it, but because leading up to the final, they seemed to have had Kings' number. But if they are to go all the way this time around, they will have to do it without their skipper from last season, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, who has been signed by Dambulla Giants.
While that loss will likely hurt, Gladiators managed to retain the services of Danushka Gunathilaka (Ruby) and Kusal Mendis (Diamond A) - the respective top scorers in the past two editions of the tournament. The rest of the side has a much fresher look about it, with Pakistan allrounders Imad Wasim (Ruby) and Faheem Ashraf (Sapphire) brought in as direct pre-draft overseas signings.
Much like Kings, a large part of Gladiators' squad-building was done pre-draft, with fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera (Sapphire) and left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan (Diamond B) drafted as direct local signings.
Squad: Imad Wasim, Danushka Gunathilaka, Faheem Ashraf, Dushmantha Chameera, Janneman Malan, Sherfane Rutherford, Azam Khan, Kusal Mendis, Lakshan Sandakan, Nuwan Thushara, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Pulina Tharanga, Nuwanidu Fernando, Nimesh Vimukthi, Movin Subasinhga, Nipun Malinga, Sachindu Colombage, Lakshan Gamage, Tharindu Kaushal, Sammu Ashan
If Gladiators are disappointed at falling short twice in a row, spare a thought for Colombo Stars. In the inaugural edition, they were the standout side in the group stages, winning six out of eight games, before losing in the semi-final to a Galle side that had snuck through with just two wins.
The last edition, though, was admittedly a write-off, where despite having one of the more impressive squads on paper, they lacked consistency.
On the plus side, they successfully retained the services of many of their key players in Angelo Mathews (Ruby), Dinesh Chandimal (Diamond B), Seekkuge Prasanna (Platinum) and Jeffrey Vandersay (Platinum), while also adding two exciting left-hand batters in Charith Asalanka (Sapphire) and Niroshan Dickwella (Diamond A).
However, they lost both Chameera and Dhananjaya to rival sides, and there is no Kusal Perera either this year as he is recovering from an injury.
In their rebuild, Stars have this year chosen to cast their net a little wider. The addition of Dwaine Pretorius (Ruby) as their premier overseas signing hints at an overarching strategy of bringing in more players with all-round skills. Then there is Dhananjaya Lakshan (Diamond B), who was pivotal in Galle's run to the final in 2020, Ishan Jayaratne (Platinum) and young Afghanistan seam-bowling allrounder Karim Janat (Platinum).
Janat is one of three Afghanistan fast bowlers in the squad, alongside Fazalhaq Farooqi (Diamond B) and Naveen-ul-Haq. West Indies' Dominic Drakes (Diamond A) offers another all-round option.
In the batting department, Stars are mostly set, and the signing of Pakistan's Asif Ali (Sapphire) will provide further heft to an already robust line-up.
Squad: Dwaine Pretorius, Angelo Mathews, Asif Ali, Charith Asalanka, Dominic Drakes, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Naveen-ul-Haq, Niroshan Dickwella, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya Lakshan, Karim Janat, Seekkuge Prasanna, Jeffrey Vandersay, Ishan Jayaratne, Muditha Lakshan, Lakshitha Manasinghe, Kevin Koththigoda, Chathuranga Kumara, Navod Paranavithana, Chamod Battage
Led by Dasun Shanaka, the national T20I captain, the franchise from Dambulla has flattered to deceive in the two LPL outings, going from impressive performances to mediocre ones. If they were to find some consistency, one gets the sense they could be a match for any side, but striking the necessary balance has proved elusive - though the signing of Rajapaksa (Sapphire) is certainly a step in the right direction.
Rajapaksa, the former Galle Gladiators skipper, has been a consistent performer in the LPL, and his addition gives the middle order some much-needed bite. Especially after last season's campaign had run almost exclusively on the form of the opening pair of Phil Salt and Dickwella - both of whom are no longer part of the squad.
Short's wristspin is likely to prove useful on Sri Lankan pitches, though it's another wristspinner, Nepal's Sandeep Lamichhane (Diamond A), who is likely to get top billing on that front. Lamichhane has been a regular in the BBL, picking up 34 wickets across the last three seasons. It will be intriguing to see the impact he can have in the LPL, considering how influential spinners have been in previous seasons.
Chaturanga de Silva, the elder brother of Hasaranga, has also been signed from the Diamond A category along with West Indies' left-arm seamer Sheldon Cottrell (Diamond B). Giants have also retained the services of spin-bowling allrounder Ramesh Mendis (Diamond B) and fast-bowler Nuwan Pradeep (Diamond B).
Squad: D'Arcy Short, Dasun Shanaka, Ben Cutting, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Sandeep Lamichhane, Tim Seifert, Haider Ali, Chaturanga de Silva, Ramesh Mendis, Nuwan Pradeep, Sheldon Cottrell, Tharindu Ratnayake, Pramod Madushan, Lasith Croospulle, Kalana Perera, Dilum Sudeera, Sachitha Jayathilake, Dushan Hemantha, Sacha De Alwis, Ravindu Fernando
It has been three changes of ownership (and names) in three seasons for Falcons (formerly Warriors and Tuskers), and they will certainly be hoping to be third time lucky.
The first edition saw them struggle to even register a win. They didn't fare much better last season either, registering just two victories across the tournament. But this season, they have made as clear a statement of intent as possible, signing Sri Lanka's premier spinner Hasaranga (Ruby) as their top-most priority signing pre-draft.
Hasaranga has been without a doubt the LPL's most destructive bowler, taking 28 wickets across two editions, while he is also capable of hefty blows with the bat. Not only does his addition strengthen Falcons, it also significantly weakens the defending champions Kings, from whom they nicked him.
Another player nicked from Kings is Pakistan's Usman Shinwari (Platinum), who will lead a fairly light-looking pace attack consisting of 19-year-old Matheesha Pathirana (Diamond B) and seam-bowling allrounders Carlos Brathwaite (Ruby), Chamika Karunaratne (Sapphire) and Isuru Udana (Diamond A) - all three of whom will add power-hitting options lower down the order.
Brathwaite isn't the only West Indian in the side, with spin-bowling allrounder Fabian Allen (Sapphire) and top-order batter Andre Fletcher (Diamond A) picked up in the main draft.
South Africa's Dewald Brevis (Diamond B) and Australia's Chris Green (Diamond B) round up the overseas draft picks. Brevis most recently had an impressive showing in the IPL for Mumbai Indians, while Green has shown his utility with both bat and ball in the BBL and T20 Blast.
Squad: Carlos Brathwaite, Wanindu Hasaranga, Fabian Allen, Chamika Karunaratne, Andre Fletcher, Dewald Brevis, Chris Green, Isuru Udana, Matheesha Pathirana, Ashen Bandara, Usman Shinwari, Kamindu Mendis, Ashan Priyanjan, Minod Bhanuka, Avishka Perera, Ashian Daniel, Malinda Pushpakumara, Janith Liyanage, Lasith Abeyratne, Kavin Bandara
Thisara PereraShoaib MalikWanindu Hasaranga de SilvaHardus ViljoenDunith WellalageBhanuka RajapaksaImad WasimFaheem AshrafJanneman MalanSeekkuge PrasannaCharith AsalankaDwaine PretoriusDhananjaya LakshanDasun ShanakaD'Arcy ShortTim SeifertSandeep LamichhaneChaturanga de SilvaUsman ShinwariMatheesha PathiranaDewald BrevisDambulla GiantsJaffna KingsGalle GladiatorsColombo StarsKandy WarriorsSri Lanka