The third edition of the Lanka Premier League concluded recently with Jaffna scoring a hat-trick of championships by beating Colombo in the final. Even though this season was a damp squib as the mainstays of Sri Lanka’s T20I team failed to impress mostly, it did unearth a few talents and allowed a few national players to establish themselves.
In this article, we take a look at five positives for Sri Lanka from this year’s LPL.
1. Vijayakanth Viyaskanth
The lanky wrist spinner from Jaffna languished under the shadows of Wanindu Hasaranga in the first two seasons but, however, with Hasaranga moving over to Kandy this season, Jaffna surprisingly decided to use Viyaskanth as their first-choice wrist spinner over the more established Suminda Lakshan. Even though the burden of being a lead spinner may have been too much for the young shoulders of Viyaskanth, he made the most of the opportunity as he came through with flying colors.
In a tournament dominated by pace, Viyaskanth was the most successful spinner as he picked up 13 wickets at an economy rate of 6.68, pipping to the post the likes of Hasaranga and Maheesh Theekshana.
Unlike most leg spinners in the country, Viyaskanth has a googly and the ability to bowl in excess of 90kmph. His long levers allow him to bowl into the pitch with a flatter trajectory, an ability that is non-negotiable for a spinner in the shorter formats. Even though he was loopy throughout the tournament, his bowling in the final was brilliant as he bowled flatter and well in excess of 90kmph, at times even touching 100 kmph.
Given his performance in the LPL, it is not far-fetched to say that he is the second-best leg spinner in the island and can be a backup for Hasaranga in the national team. As of now, he does not spin his stock ball much and his googlies don’t turn sharp, which means he can’t be a wicket-taker. However, with age on his side, if he can work on his googly, then he can definitely make a strong case for himself in the national team.
2. Shevon Daniel
Shevon Daniel is a breath of fresh air among Sri Lanka’s production line of run accumulators as he is a rare batsman with the ability to clear the boundary with ease. The teenaged southpaw entered the tournament on the back of a successful Pakistan Junior League tournament, and he did live up to the hype in his first-ever T20 tournament at the highest level.
Even though his numbers might paint a different picture—an average of 23.9 at 119.3 is hardly impressive—he showed us glimpses of his potential throughout the tournament. The seven sixes he hit were the fifth-highest by a Sri Lankan batsman, which is promising considering that he was playing only in his first major T20 tournament. Against Galle, he also showed his ability to build a T20 innings by shifting through different gears, which shows that there is more to his game than just power-hitting.
Unlike most Sri Lankan batsmen, Shevon shows a healthy intent with the bat and has the power to play the big shots consistently. Add to this the fact that he is a left-handed batsman, Shevon Daniel has every ingredient necessary to be an elite T20 batsman. Left-handed power hitters with the ability to hit spin are a luxury that every T20 team longs for and Shevon can become a hotly sought T20 batsman if he starts to convert his potential into consistent performances.
Notwithstanding his limited footwork against spin and questionable shot selections in general, given that he is only 18, we can only expect him to learn and improve. And with age, he is going to get stronger and hit the ball farther.
3. Charith Asalanka
Even though Asalanka has already demonstrated his ability with the bat, he has been going through a lean patch with the bat in T20Is in recent times. The reasons have been multitude, ranging from being thrust into situations that don’t suit his skillset to being trussed by matchups. Besides, he had not played an innings of substance in the previous two seasons of the LPL. So, he entered the tournament having to find an approach to T20 batting that works for him and to reinforce his place in the national team.
Despite struggling in the first few games as a result of being pushed lower down the order and not being given the time to get himself in—something he has been a victim of even in the national side—Asalanka immediately found success when he was allowed to move up the order and bat at three. The stocky southpaw took his time with the bat to get his eye in and once settled, started teeing off, playing a major role in Colombo’s wins against Galle, Dambulla, and Kandy.
One can only hope that Asalanka has finally discovered what works for him in T20s and Sri Lanka allow him to do what works the best for him. Given the power he possesses against spin and the left-hand option he provides, which is very important to thwart slow left-arm spin and leg spin, Sri Lanka need to take a leaf out of how Colombo used Asalanka and allow him the time he needs when he is new at the crease.
4. Chamika Karunaratne
Chamika Karunaratne belongs to the rare breed of Sri Lankan fast bowling allrounders with the ability to hit pace at the death. However, he was overlooked for the recent ODI series against Afghanistan owing to his ‘poor’ performance and found himself at the wrong end of social media campaigns to boot. Moreover, he played no part in the first season of the LPL and had a middling outing in the second. Although he had manifested his power sporadically, he had failed to finish the innings well for his teams consistently.
However, Chamika managed to consistently apply the finishing touches for Kandy in this year’s LPL, helping his team win both their games against Jaffna while waging a lone battle towards the end against Galle in their second encounter.
In the past, Chamika had the habit of being one-dimensional with his stroke play and looking to target only one part of the ground with his big hits. However, in this LPL, he showed a great range in his strokeplay and accessed different parts of the grounds with his power shots.
In a country that doesn’t produce too many lower-order power hitters, Chamika’s coming of age in this LPL is a huge sigh of relief for Sri Lanka.
5. Nuwanidu Fernando
Nuwanidu Fernando, despite scoring a hundred in a T20 match against Gloucestershire earlier this year and having a good National Super League Limited-Overs tournament, has still not broken into the national team. However, he reminded everyone of his potential once again with a very good LPL right in his first season.
Even though he was batting out of position for Galle, Nuwanidu still managed to rack up decent numbers with the bat. His long levers were particularly effective in hitting spin as he showed against Dambulla in the final match of the league stage. He also showed great range against pace even though he could not generate as much power against pace as he did against spin.
Having said that, Nuwanidu is still a work in progress in the shorter formats as he relies more on his timing than power to clear the boundary. However, considering his reach, it should not be too difficult for him to introduce the power game into his arsenal.
Despite having made his international debut in 2017, Sadeera Samarawickrama never really got a consistent run with the national team. He also didn’t get many games under his belt in the first two seasons of the LPL and did not start for Jaffna in this year’s LPL either. However, an injury to Rahmanullah Gurbaz brought him into the side and the wicketkeeper-batsman didn’t take too long to impress.
Even though he lacks the power to be a good T20 player, Sadeera used his range to greater effect, manipulated the field well, and ensured that the scoreboard was ticking no matter what the situation was. He also hit the second-highest number of fours in the tournament and had an impressive dot-ball percentage of 28, which show how good his range is.
However, the lack of power is a deal breaker in an ideal T20 team, so Sadeera is less likely to be an asset for the national team. Nonetheless, if Sri Lanka are hell-bent on playing an anchor, here is a batsman they can’t look past.
Galle reluctantly fielded Nuwan Thushara in the first season of the LPL but since then, the right-arm slinger has progressed in leaps and bounds. Even though he excelled with the new ball in the previous seasons, he struggled with the older ball and failed to remain relevant during the middle overs and at the death.
However, he showed tremendous progress this season by being Galle’s go-to bowler throughout different phases of the innings. In addition to the new ball movement he engenders, Thushara made the most of his round-arm action to bowl his yorkers, wide yorkers and dipping slower balls to good effect. He was also very clever with the use of his bouncers and managed to take several batsmen by surprise.
Nevertheless, his lack of pace means that against batsmen of better quality, he can become a cannon fodder. However, even though his improvement might not mean much to Sri Lanka, he can still be a quality backup for the frontline fast bowlers.