You could not have wished for a better start in the Lanka Premier League tournament as the curtain-raiser between Kandy Tuskers and Colombo Kings which produced a Super Over with the game going well past midnight.
The organizers have claimed that a record number of audience witnessed the game and such a thrilling start is sure to bring in more fans and more importantly sponsors whose presence will ensure that the competition will be sustained and it won’t be just one-off.
The opener had all the thrills. Kandy dominated the game from the moment the first ball was bowled and a costly mistake or two in the tail-end cost them dearly. T20 is such a cruel game that the margin of error is too little and it kills you. Of course, Kandy have plenty of time to make amends but they have to deal with some serious issues.
Kandy didn’t get the rub of the green. They lost Irfan Pathan, one of their biggest overseas signings into his second over, due to a hamstring strain. Hamstring injuries are a tricky subject when you are on the wrong side of the 30s and Pathan’s campaign may be over.
Obviously, Kandy’s biggest signing was Dale Steyn. But the Protea is yet to turn up in Sri Lanka and even if he does, he will miss at least two more games due to the government’s strict isolation guidelines. They have got a terrific side but things have not gone in their favour.
A notable feature in the opening game was the impact of the Afghan players – all three of whom left an indelible mark. The most impressive of them all was the big hitting Rahmanullah Gurbaz. You don’t find someone outscoring Kusal Perera often. Gurbaz did. When he had raced to 31, KJP was on seven. There was some manic hitting by the 18-year-old Afghan and he’s going to be a game changer in the LPL.
Then there was the 20-year-old leggie Qais Ahmad, who attacked, unafraid to concede runs, a fine quality of a leg-spin bowler. But it was the duo’s former Under-19 skipper Naveen-ul-Hasan who turned the game on its head with his double strike. Colombo were cruising at 131 for one in 12.3 overs and Naveen then struck in successive balls to dismiss both set batsmen – Dinesh Chandimal and Thikshila de Silva to turn the tide in his side’s favour.
There was another twist in the tale then as LPL’s opening game found an eventual match winner in Isuru Udana. Sensible bowling and clean hitting were on show and so was his ability to remain calm when the going got tough. That’s a trait essential in high pressure sports and cannot be coached, you are either born with it or master it after doing it time and again.
A franchise-based tournament has been very much needed for some time now and it has taken us quite some time to put something in place. Better late than never. In putting through a tournament of this nature, successive administrations were essentially looking at profit making, forgetting that the competition brought in other essentials with one of the key things being exposure for players. The IPL wasn’t making profits when it was started in 2008. They were only breaking even and with the popularity of the event only the ‘product’ got value. Similarly, other global events like BPL in Bangladesh and CPL in the Caribbean are only breaking even or could be even incurring losses. Big Bash in Australia through clever sale of television rights are getting good returns while England and South Africa are unable to start something of their own yet. PCB like BCCI has got an event that is well organized and SLC’s blueprint should be based on that.
One of the prerogatives of SLC is to make sure that the franchises who came on board are not left with a burden and they at least cover their costs after the inaugural edition. Otherwise, they will lose interest and a second edition will prove beyond the means of Dubai based IPG, to whom the board has outsourced the event.
All organizers deserve credit as the tournament has kicked off despite numerous challenges. But work remains to be done on several fronts to reach the success of an IPL, PSL or Big Bash. There are tactical, technical and operational things that need to be looked into.
Tactically, there were some schoolboy stuff in the opening game. KJP blundered in placing too many fielders on the leg-side and was penalized with a Free Hit during a crucial period of the game. Then, there were too many fielding lapses in the opening game from both sides. Kandy especially were appalling. Their coach Hashan Tillakaratne would have been embarrassed by the display of his team because he is someone who maintained very high standards when it came to fielding. His seven catches in a match as an outfielder was a World Record until Ajinkaya Rahane broke it five years ago.
The umpiring was poor as well but they will get more opportunities to rectify things. A lot of investment has been done in developing umpires and the locals need to raise their standards or the authorities will be left with Hobson’s choice but to bring match officials from overseas in the next edition.
There are of course operational nightmares when conducting an event of this nature that too at a far-off place like Hambantota. But having said that, the technical issue that prevented the operation of electronic scoreboard should have been addressed before the start of the opening game. These are not only modern day attractions that keep the game colourful but platforms that sponsors badly want to gain maximum coverage.