Galle Gladiators 151 for 8 (Rajapaksa 33, Lakshan 31*) beat Colombo Kings 150 for 9 (Bell-Drumond 70, Sandakan 3-32) by 2 wickets
How the game played out
Three wins, six losses, LPL finalists. The Galle Gladiators are the first team to qualify for the final of the Lanka Premier League, coming out victors in a semi-final that at points seemingly neither side wanted to win.
Indeed, a two wicket win with one ball remaining barely begins to tell the story of a game that was largely dominated by the ball, but will undoubtedly be remembered for some incredibly sloppy moments in the field from both sides. The Gladiators to be sure will know they have got away with one.
In a truly Jekyll and Hyde performance, the Gladiators were exemplary with the ball; the pace trio of Mohammed Amir, Nuwan Thushara and Dhananjaya Lakshan, gave away just 80 runs in their 12 overs, picking up four wickets, which allowed Lakshan Sandakan to scalp the critical wickets of Angelo Mathews, Andre Russell, and Ashan Priyanjan.
At no point in the Kings' innings were the batsmen allowed a breather - except for Daniel Bell-Drummond, who was dropped thrice and survived a run out scare on the way to a 53-ball 70 - as they were held to a sub-par 150 for 9.
But with the bat, the Gladiators showed the Kings more than enough opportunities to steal the win, all of which they somehow managed to squander. That the Kings got there without the bowling chops of Russell (who slipped in the dressing room and didn't take the field) and Mathews (who pulled a hamstring midway through his spell), illustrates how difficult the Gladiators made life for themselves.
Add to this Isuru Udana bowling his final two overs virtually on one leg. Not that this in any way took away from the drama. So engrossing was it that the rain which had hovered menacingly overhead for half the chase ultimately decided the contest was too engaging to interrupt. Perhaps the rain gods too were caught up in the game of who would falter next.
In the end it came down to the final over, with the Colombo Kings, after having stretched the game to that point - perhaps through sheer will power - now, quite preposterously, marginal favourites.
Let's set the scene for a moment. The Gladiators need 15 off 6 with two wickets in hand. A one-legged Udana is bowling - having previously been prevented by the umpires from bowling the penultimate over as he was off the field for too long when receiving treatment. Lakshan, whose 2 for 27 with the ball had played a key role in curtailing the Kings' batsmen earlier in the day, is the last recognised batsman at the crease. With him is Sandakan, whose 3 for 32 was arguably the pivotal spell of the game.
Cue Lakshan slicing a high full toss on off-stump straight to Qais Ahmad, only for him to spill the chance - the umpteenth drop of the game. To make matters worse the batsmen would gamble for two, with Qais missing the stumps when a direct hit would've seen the batsman well short.
In a game littered with mistakes in the field, Lakshan would make sure that was the last as he would hit a six high over long-off two balls later, and two balls after that Sandakan would smack a half-volley for four to seal a hard-fought win.
It really shouldn't have come to that though, had the Gladiators' batsmen shown a modicum of composure. Even the ever-reliable Danushka Gunathilaka - who had not scored fewer than 30 so far in the tournament - wasn't immune to the rampant strain of poor decision-making that would proceed to run through the Gladiators' batting lineup, as he would fall for 13, after an ill-advised sweep only managed to find the man at deep midwicket.
Either side of a 23-ball 40-run third wicket stand between Azam Khan and Bhanuka Rajapaksa, the Gladiators would lose wickets cheaply, courtesy of a combination of poor shot selection and even poorer running. One of which would account for the wicket of Shehan Jayasuriya, who had looked to be steering the Gladiators to the win before being run out for 22.
All this on another day should've been enough to lose the game, but on the balance of play the better team on the day - just about - probably won.
Stars of the day
The entire Gladiators's bowling contingent. Having sleepwalked through the first half of the tournament, replete with bowling and fielding performances lacking in both energy and penetration, the Gladiators - either by design or desperation - have stumbled upon a combination that has become among the most effective in the LPL.
While in Amir they always possessed a world-class talent, the more recent additions of Lasith Malinga, Thushara and the swing and variations of Lakshan have transformed their attack. More importantly, the control provided by those three has granted the Gladiatiors the luxury of utilising Sandakan in a purely attacking role.
The injury losses of Russell, Mathews and Udana (effectively), which crippled the Kings' ability to contain an unusually generous Gladiators line-up.
The big miss
It could've been any number of dropped catches really. But Qais' drop of Lakshan in the final over was ultimately the final nail in the coffin of the Kings.