Galle Gladiators 130 for 1 (Gunathilaka 94*) beat Kandy Tuskers 126 (Mendis 68) by nine wickets
How the match played out
After winning the toss and choosing to bowl, Galle Gladiators’ captain Bhanuka Rajapaksa could not have asked for a better start from his opening bowlers in this effective quarter-final.
Mohammad Amir did not concede a run until the 12th ball he bowled, while Nuwan Thushara, the fast bowler with a slingy action that evokes Lasith Malinga, made two early breakthroughs. First, he trapped Kusal Perera lbw, before having Rahmanullah Gurbaz caught at backward point to leave Kandy Tuskers reeling at 9 for 2.
Brendan Taylor led the rebuilding job with Kusal Mendis, surviving an lbw shout which was not reviewed but would have been given out if it had been, before he played on against Lakshan Sandakan to leave the Tuskers 58 for 3 at the halfway stage of the innings. Seekkuge Prasanna was bowled through the gate by Dhananjaya Lakshan two balls later.
That left Mendis to cut loose, sweeping and slog-sweeping his way to a 32-ball half-century. Thushara was unable to bowl after his initial two-over burst, hobbling off with a knee injury as he attempted to start a third over, and his absence was telling as Mendis tucked into Sahan Arachchige’s part-time offspin in the 18th over before holing out to deep midwicket.
Amir took two wickets in his fourth over to clean up the tail and finish with parsimonious figures of 2 for 11. Shehan Jayasuriya was tasked with bowling the final over, and trapped Vishwa Fernando lbw on review with his only delivery to bowl the Tuskers out for 126, which looked a long way short of par.
Coming into this match with a superior net run rate, the Gladiators knew that victory would be enough to send them through to the semi-finals, regardless how long it took. But Danushka Gunathilaka, the competition’s star batsman and leading run-scorer, was in no mood to hang around: he hit 10 fours and scooped a six in racing to a 28-ball fifty.
While Hazratullah Zazai struggled for fluency at the other end, there was never any scoring pressure on the Gladiators, with the required rate dipping below a run a ball as early as the fifth over.
Zazai fell to Dilruwan Perera in the 15th over for a painstaking 20 off 34 balls, but Gunathilaka did not let up. He clubbed Dale Steyn for six over midwicket in the 16th, and only fell six runs short of the second hundred of the competition and the day, despite the modest target. He had taken a single to move to 94, hoping to hit a six to reach his hundred, but Gurbaz – standing in as wicketkeeper after Perera had gone off injured – conceded four byes with the scores level and Ahsan Ali on strike, thus denying him the opportunity.
Star of the day
While the Gladiators’ win was set up by their bowlers – Amir and Thushara were particularly impressive with the new ball – it was Gunathilaka’s night once again. He gave little concern to turning over the strike, instead focusing on putting away the loose balls that came his way, scooping well and hitting cleanly down the ground.
He is now 199 runs clear at the top among the leading scorers in this competition, and has almost single-handedly underpinned the Gladiators’ batting line-up this season to fire himself back into contention for national selection. “He’ll definitely be on our radar – he’s certainly put his name up in lights,” admitted Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur on commentary.
Where the teams stand
Kandy Tuskers have been eliminated from the competition on net run rate, with two win and six defeats from their eight games. Galle Gladiators have snuck into the semi-finals in their place, and will play the winner of Friday’s fixture between Dambulla Viiking and Colombo Kings.