Hail Uva next

The inaugural edition of Mahindra Sri Lanka Premier League comprised 24 matches out of which two were abandoned due to rain. The final came close to being the third but eventually Uva Next beat Nagenahira Nagas by 19 runs on D/L method.

Thilan Samaraweera scoring a 45-ball 75 is not an everyday occurrence. So is a sweep from Shivnarine Chanderpaul landing on the second tier of a stadium. The inaugural edition of the Mahindra Sri Lanka Premier League was witness to such rare moments along with a clutch of highs and lows.

The tournament comprised 24 matches out of which two were abandoned due to rain. The final came close to being the third but eventually Uva Next beat Nagenahira Nagas by 19 runs on D/L method.

It was not a cricket carnival per se. Though the who’s who of Sri Lankan cricket donned their regional colours, it was bereft of cricketing superstars from around the world. While some were honouring their international commitments, some were nursing injuries. Chris Gayle, Shakib Al Hassan and Kumar Sangakkara were injured before the tournament and Shahid Afridi and Nathan McCullum withdrew midway. Mercurial Bangladesh batsman Mohammad Ashraful was roped in by Ruhuna Royals as a replacement, but his footprint lasted all but five deliveries.

The league’s most inspiring batting performances came at the fag end. Angelo Mathews’ 27-ball 73 and Dilshan Munaweera’s 23-ball 44, loaded with five sixes, for Nagenahira Nagas and Uva Next respectively in the final. These were perhaps the most influential bits of batting. Mahela Jayawardene chipped in too with an unbeaten 96 against the Nagas at Pallekele. An innings in which Jayawardene finished with a late flourish of 23 in the final over.

Kiwi all rounder, Jacob Oram, playing for Uva Next, was the most economical bowler of the tournament. Guess who was the second best — 43-year-old Sanath Jayasuriya. Unorthodox Pakistani paceman Sohail Tanvir, who set the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League on fire, was impressive here too. Playing for Kandurata Warriors, he swung the ball both ways. Oram’s spells of three for six and Tanvir’s three for four, along with a five-wicket haul by Dilhara Fernando against Basnahira CD were the stand out bowling perfomances.

Eighteen-year-old Akila Dananjaya, playing for Wayamba United, impressed with nine wickets overall. He was virtually unknown till Mahela Jayawardene picked him and thrust him into the limelight. He looked at ease and his variations often left batsmen clueless. Sachithra Senanayake of Uva Next was not among the highest wicket-takers, but still managed to pip Ajantha Mendis for a place in the eleven. A livewire on the field, he bowled cheap spells in the middle overs strangling the flow of runs.

There were some bloody moments too in the tournament. South African Rilee Rossouw was hit by a bouncer from Lasith Malinga. The grill of his helmet was wide enough for the ball to sneak in and break his nose. He bled profusely on the pitch and the ground staff had to use saw dust to cover up the bloodstains.

The tournament, however, did not attract crowds. Except for the final at the Premadasa Stadium which was nearly packed, the turnout, through the tournament was sparse.

Upali Dharmadasa, president of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) however sounded upbeat. “SLPL is a newborn baby as far as Sri Lanka Cricket is concerned and we are in the right direction. We may have fewer spectators compared to Indian Premier League or Bangladesh Premier League but we are a nation of 20 million. We at SLC were sceptical at the beginning but things have turned out well and the franchises are happy. We are all working on the same platform. People are open to give their views and we will correct them and move forward,” he told Wisden India.

For Sri Lankan cricket, the tournament unearthed two talents. Dilshan Munaweera, the opening batsman of Uva Next, seems to be the next to follow in the list of dashing Lankan openers. Akila Dananjaya is already being touted as the next big thing in Lankan spin bowling.

A bit far fetched one might say, but come the World Twenty20 they could after all prove their worth.

A Special Correspondent