The Jaffna Stallions continued to make merry, galloping away to their fourth consecutive win, when they went on to beat the Galle Gladiators, once again in clinical fashion and by 5 wickets this time, in the Lanka Premier League T20 game played at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium in Sooriyawewa, Hambantota last evening.
The Jaffna Stallions victory had carbon copy similarities of their win against the same opposition, when the two teams first met in their respective opening fixture played earlier on the 2nd December 2020.
Coincidentally this match was also both teams' fourth encounter too.
But by the end of this game and coincidentally yet again, both teams had registered four out of four, with the Jaffna Stallions winning all of them played so far to remain on to top of the points table, leaving the Galle Gladiators to occupy the lowest rung of the ladder due to their fourth consecutive straight loss.
The Galle Gladiators on both occasions set up reasonable targets of 170 run plus scores, only for the Jaffna Stallions' opener Avishka Fernando to overpower them with two majestic and masterful displays of batting, to pocket both ‘Man of the Match’ Awards.
These two unfazed and clinical performances displayed by Avishka Fernando should augur well for him and also for the country’s future, that’s only if any selector watching cared enough to seriously take note.
In the first game the opener remained 92 not out off 63 balls, whilst in this game he thumped another useful contribution of 80 runs scored off 57 deliveries.
The similarities of these two knocks was that he walloped the same number of 12 boundaries, with only the 5 sixes and 7 fours hit in this game in reverse order.
He bided his time as usual at the start of his innings and blasted off the tracks later on.
His three consecutive sixes hit off one Akila Dananjaya over was also an absolute treat to just simply watch.
With feet firmly planted and head firmly still, he went down on bended knee and smoked all of them over the boundary on the leg side, lifting his head up to admire the beauty of his own hits, only after the balls had reached the apex of its flight.
Such was his technique and such was his class and such was his intelligence all demonstrated in a repeat performance once again last night.
Chasing a reasonably modest and gettable total of 171 set for victory, the Jaffna Stallions galloped away to victory, thanks to a fine 99 run partnership scored off 62 balls, which took place between opener Avishka Fernando and one drop bat Minod Bhanuka.
There was however a mild stutter, something similar to a three wheel 'tuk tuk' losing gas towards the end, when three wickets fell in the latter part of their innings and with 19 runs still to get off a mere dozen balls.
First to go in that stutter was Minod Bhanuka, who fell for a well compiled knock of 40 runs off 26 balls in the 14th over, followed by skipper Thisara "Panda" Perera in the 17th, who flicked one to be caught at backward square leg for 9.
Then in the very next 18th over, the well set Avishka Fernando mishit one straight down long on's throat.
That was off a very impressive and miserly 18th over bowled by local youngster Dananjaya Lakshan playing his first game.
The youngster who eventually gave away a mere 5 runs, whilst mixing his deliveries well, should have had the well set Avishka Fernando out in ball numbers two and four in that over.
The bowler was however left heart broken, when Shehan Jayasuriya avoided going for a catch in the second ball bowled and thereafter made a hash of it on the long off boundary, misfielding the ball and sending it for four.
Two balls later, wicket keeper Azzam Khan dropped a straightforward sitter, which even left his famous Pakistani wicket keeping father Moin Khan ‘stone faced’, as a cameraman focused his lens to capture the Galle Gladiators’ Head Coach’s reaction.
The game was well poised at this stage with both sides having a fair chance of winning at the start of the commencement of the 19th over, as two new batsmen were now occupying the crease.
Wanidu Hasanaga, a bowler who could bat and regular top order batsman Dananjaya De Silva coming in at the fall of the 5th wicket, remained calm to eventually see the Jaffna Stallions home with two balls to spare.
It was a pitiful 19th over that the Pakistani International Mohamed Amir bowled for himself, his side and for all his Galle Gladiators fans too.
He over pitched three balls outside the off stump after he had brought the third man in, leaving batsman Wanidu Hasaranga to glide all of them between point and short third man, whilst using the pace of the ball to the boundary with ease. Hasaranga also hit one more boundary through the covers to collect a total of 16 much needed runs off that crucial over.
With three runs to get in the last over the batting Jaffna Stallions duo, then strutted off for two easy singles before De Silva thumped the 4th ball over the bowlers head for four to secure his side a 5 wicket win.
Earlier in the first innings the Galle Gladiators got off to a cautious start with both openers Danushka Gunatilaka and Pakistani Ahsan Ali playing it safe and minimizing risks.
The openers played through the power play hitting just 5 boundaries between them, taking the score to 50 for no loss.
It was a reasonable start and a beautiful platform laid for a much anticipated big total at the end.
They in fact played it so safe, that with even the dashing Gunatilaka at the crease and a batsman who himself registers a strike rate of over 160 plus in the power play overs, it took them to almost the halfway mark for them to hit their first six of the innings.
That too was hit by one drop batsman Azzam Khan in the 10th over, who eventually went on to play a little cameo, scoring 25 runs off 14 balls.
Danushka reached his second 50 of the tournament with a fine glide past point with timing and elegance all rolled in that shot.
The Galle Gladiators' were well on song to score around the 185 – 190 run mark, when the scoreboard read 118 for 03 in the 15th over and with Danushka Gunatilaka well set at the crease.
But much to everyone's disbelief, Gunatilaka opted to once again play a premeditated reverse sweep to Wanindu Hasaranga and gifted the bowler his wicket yet again.
In the previous game he reverse swept Hasaranga's delivery on to his stumps to be out bowled when he was well set on 38 and this time too, when he was simply on song he lobbed a simple catch to the point fielder.
With the fall of his wicket, the Galle Gladiators could not gather any momentum to see their side through to that much predicted big score, as they limped their way to end at 170 for 6 wickets in their allotment of 20 overs.
The Gladiators' opener Danushka Gunatilaka lacked that much needed emphasis and application to bat through his innings and to see his team register a fairytale ending. This is despite him being the highest run getter so far in the tournament with 209 runs against his name scored in 4 innings, with a highest score of 82, including 3 sixes and 29 fours.
His innings played till now have all been like only the signatory signing of a wedding ceremony, with no gala reception and free flowing champagne celebrations to follow.
The Galle Gladiators have four matches left to play and with it a huge herculean task to come up with something special if they are to qualify for the semifinals.