Galle Gladiators found two effective local seamers late in the league stage, had Mohammad Amir hit serious form ahead of the knockouts, and now think they have the best seam attack at the Lanka Premier League. This is what their captain Bhanuka Rajapaksa said on the eve of the final against Jaffna Stallions.
His words are not unsubstantiated. The two seamers with the most wickets in the league are both Gladiators bowlers - Amir and Dhananjaya Lakshan having claimed 10 wickets apiece. Lakshan's tally is from three fewer bowling innings than Amir, but it is Amir, Rajapaksa said, who has inspired and guided the younger bowlers in the team.
In their last four matches, Gladiators have taken their wickets at an average of 18.78 - easily the best in the league in that period.
"When Amir was doing well in the early matches, he didn't have a lot of new-ball support. He talked to me and said, 'Bhanu, while I'm trying to get wickets I also have to bowl dot balls.' But he's been very good with everyone and he shared his experience. I hear what Amir talks about with the younger players, and he makes a lot of valid points. I think a lot of our recent success in the powerplay is down to that.
"He's told our young bowlers how to seam the ball - things they don't know. He helps them in pressure situations as well. For a lot of us this is our first time playing in a tournament like this. What he does now is he gets us wickets with the new ball, and he can bowl for wickets because we now also have Dhananjaya Lakshan and Nuwan Thushara. Our seam attack is better than everyone else's."
"Dhananjayaa Lakshan is one of the most valuable finds of the LPL. He's got a big future. If we guide him well through the system, he's a bowler who can swing it like Nuwan Kulasekara... in tough situations he'll come and say 'Bhanu aiya, I'll win the match for you.' We've got a few good youngsters in the side, but he has stood out." Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Gladiators captain
Thushara has been especially good at taking the pressure off Amir in the early overs, Rajapaksa said. A 26-year-old who delivers the ball round-arm, Malinga style, Thushara has taken two wickets in each of Gladiators' last two matches. He hadn't played in any of Gladiators' five successive losses to start the tournament. Since he has come into the XI, Gladiators have won three out of four games.
"Nuwan Thushara brought a lot of balance to the side," Rajapaksa said. "Amir was bowling well with the new ball, but he didn't have a lot of support. And when Lakshan Sandakan, Dhananjaya Lakshan and Amir also get wickets through the middle overs, it's easy for a captain. Two of them anyway are senior bowlers (Amir and Sandakan). Them doing well allows us to play with one fewer bowler and cover the difference with part-timers."
Rajapaksa also had praise for Dhananjaya Lakshan in particular. The 22-year-old had largely been unheard of until the LPL. But during this tournament, he has generated substantial inswing to the right-hander, and also unveiled a variety of slower balls, most of which have been brilliantly directed. In addition to all this, he also hit a crucial 31 not out off 23 balls to help get Gladiators to their target in the semi-final.
"Dhananjayaa Lakshan is one of the most valuable finds of the LPL," Rajapalsa said. "He's got a big future. If we guide him well through the system, he's a bowler who can swing it like Nuwan Kulasekara. He can bat in the middle order and gives it 100% in the field as well. I have a lot of confidence in him as a captain because in tough situations he'll come and say 'Bhanu aiya, I'll win the match for you.' We've got a few good youngsters in the side, but he has stood out."