With one game left to play in the round-robin stage the Dambulla Viiking will be quite pleased with their efforts, having already qualified for the semifinals, they sit atop the Lanka Premier League points table with five wins, one loss, and one game which ended with no result after it was washed out.
The Viiking’s only defeat came at the hands of the Jaffna Stallions, following a virtuoso display from Stallions Captain Thisara Perera, that undid an otherwise stellar Viiking bowling performance. Aside from that game, the Sons of Thor have found a way past all before them – though they will have been disappointed that rain took away the chance of redemption against the Stallions at the second time of asking; depending on how the final round of games go, this could end up being one of the more intriguing semi-final match-ups.
The road to the semifinals
Heading into the semifinals the Viiking look to be building up a head of steam at just the right time. They kicked off the LPL with a narrow win over the Kandy Tuskers; Captain Dasun Shanaka and Samit Patel’s 127-run partnership rescuing them after a slow start to post 195/4 batting first. The Tuskers’s chase was then cut short by rain, and the D/L method found them four runs short.
The next game too the Viiking looked in control, until Thisara’s masterclass – though this did provide the Viiking with a valuable lesson; it warned them that they needed to improve their death bowling.
In the next game versus a dangerous Colombo Kings side, one that contained the likes of Andre Russell and Isuru Udana, the Viiking showed they had learned from their previous outing. Four changes were made, among which were spinners Sachindu Colombage and Pulina Tharanga. After Shanaka and Patel had once again taken the Viiking to a competitive total of 175/9, their battalion of spinners managed to completely neutralise a much-vaunted Kings batting lineup on the way to an impressive 28-run win, as each picked up a wicket with Malinda Pushpakumara’s 2 for 19 the best of the lot.
The next game saw the Viiking refine their bowling plans, once again utilising spin to slow the opposition down. Pushpakumara and Patel got through several cheap overs at the death to help restrict the Tuskers to 156/6, after Angelo Perera and Shanaka (you just can’t keep him out of the action!) helped the Viiking chase down the total with five wickets and four balls to spare.
The Viiking’s fourth game was a much closer affair than they would have liked. Facing off against a Galle Gladiators side that were at the bottom of the table, the Viiking’s top order finally came to the fore. Taking advantage of a lacklustre Gladiators bowling performance, Niroshan Dickwella and Upul Tharanga put on 110 runs for the opening wicket. Shanaka then came in the final few overs and smashed a 21-ball 37 to take the Viiking past 200.
Set a target of 208, the Gladiators struggled to get going as the Viiking bowlers restricted them to 47 for 2 at the end of the powerplay period. But Azam Khan’s 24-ball 55 would transform the chase, as he and tournament top-scorer Danushka Gunathilaka would put on 94 together. The Viiking will have been disappointed though about their efforts in the field which saw them drop Gunathilaka and Khan on at least four occasions. Thankfully Anwar Ali’s excellent penultimate over, defending 21 off 12 balls, gave away just four runs and dismissed the dangerous Gunathilaka. That was enough for the Viking to hold on to a nine run win.
After the next game was washed out prematurely with the Viiking in a spot of bother on 42 for 3 after seven overs having been put into bat by the Stallions, the Gladiators and Viiking played out yet another classic. Once more it was the Viiking’s spinners, this time Ramesh Mendis joining Patel, that tied down the opposition batsman. Having given away 73 runs in the powerplay, the Viiking bowlers restricted the Gladiators to just 94 runs from the following 14 overs. But despite these efforts, the Viiking looked like they were on their way to just their second loss of the tournament after the Gladiators’ bowlers had shackled them for the first 15 overs of their chase keeping them to 110/5, and needing 69 runs off 30 deliveries.
Enter Afghan Samiullah Shinwari, whose whirlwind 20-ball 46, inclusive of two sixes and six fours, was unquestionably the defining innings of the game. He would hit a six off the final delivery of the innings to cap a fine comeback.