By A Special Correspondent
COLOMBO – The chaotic build-up to the inaugural Lanka Premier League (LPL) took another blow with just a week to go for the start of the event when two of the biggest draws in T20 cricket – Chris Gayle and Lasith Malinga – announced their unavailability for the event.
As foreign players, franchise staff and tournament organizers continue to arrive in the Sooriyawewa area ahead of the start of the LPL on November 26, the absence of Gayle and Malinga has dampened the profile of the newest T20 league.
Gayle had been reportedly negotiating terms with his franchise Kandy Tuskers before pulling out ostensibly due to injury while Malinga cited inadequate preparation for his withdrawal. However, the arrival of West Indian all-rounder Andre Russell earlier this week ensures the tournament will have one global star.
One of the Galle Gladiators’ marquee players, Malinga was expected to lead that team. However, Malinga said that the lack of cricket and training this year had prompted his decision to withdraw.
“Since the West Indies series early this year, I haven’t had any cricket, and there hasn’t been any training for me at all,” Malinga told ESPNcricinfo. “When the draft happened last month, I thought there would be about three weeks of training before the LPL, but there has been nothing. They are only having us come to Hambantota this week, and even there they are asking us to do three days of quarantine.
“It’s not easy for a bowler to play at a high level without training. At the LPL they also have matches on back-to-back days. So I decided not to play the tournament.”
Also withdrawing from the tournament this week is former England star Ravi Bopara, who had been drafted late into the Jaffna Stallions franchise.
The arrival of Pakistani all-rounder Shahid Afridi drafted by the Galle Gladiators team will be delayed by a few days because his youngest daughter is sick.
“She is recovering well and hopefully Afridi will join the team in the next few days and will not only manage the quarantine policy in Sri Lanka but will play the matches,” team coach Moin Khan said.
Former Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed who was supposed to captain the Galle Gladiators franchise will also not be available because of commitments with the national team.
Most of the foreign players of all teams are reaching Sri Lanka on Thursday.
The Jaffna Stallions franchise, meanwhile, have announced a slew of new foreign players, including former South Africa fast bowlers Kyle Abbott and Duanne Olivier. These players will replace Pakistan batsman Asif Ali and England batsman Dawid Malan, who is unavailable due to being picked for England’s forthcoming tour of South Africa.
Jaffna Stallions’ media director Saranga Wijeyarathne said the five players were set reach Sri Lanka on Thursday, with Shoaib Malik arriving on Friday (20).
The Colombo Kings franchise, meanwhile, which had lost Kabir Ali as coach due to his testing positive for COVID-19 this week, has replaced him with Herschelle Gibbs, who initially travelled to Sri Lanka to work as a commentator for the tournament. Former Sri Lanka spinner Rangana Herath will be the assistant coach of the Kings, after Chaminda Vaas pulled out from that role.
Gibbs has previously coached several T20 franchises in South Africa, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. “We are happy to have Herschelle Gibbs as our Head Coach. He is considered as one of the most talented cricketers from South Africa. Captain Angelo Mathews is also extremely excited to work with him and hopefully together they both can make the team win the trophy this year,” Shadab Jakarti, Director of Cricket, Colombo Kings said.
Former England batsman, Owais Shah has been appointed as the new Head Coach of the Dambulla Vikings while replacing another former Englishman and fast bowler Jon Lewis.
The Dambulla Vikings will come out for the first time when they take on the Kandy Tuskers on November 28 in a day game.
Shah will have the opportunity of coaching a star-studded line-up, which includes top foreign players in the calibre of Carlos Brathwaite (West Indies), Samit Patel (England), and Paul Stirling (Ireland).
Led by Sri Lanka all-rounder Dasun Shanaka, Dambulla Vikings is packed with some promising cricketers like Sachindu Colombage, Kavindu Nadeeshan, Dilshan Madushanka and Ashen Bandara. The Dambulla franchise is one of the favourites for the title with several national and former national players like Niroshan Dickwella, Lahiru Kumara, Oshada Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Upul Tharanga and Angelo Perera in the line-up.
Shah will also carry a load of experience under his shoulders having represented the Delhi Daredevils, Kolkata Knight Riders and the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 tournament.
Fast bowlers Wahab Riaz and Liam Plunkett are out of the tournament for certain, however, and the Kandy Tuskers have picked former India quick Munaf Patel, and Pakistan fast bowler Sohail Tanvir. Munaf last played a T20 in 2017, but Tanvir is an active player, having been part of Multan Sultans’ campaign in this year’s PSL (Pakistan Super League). Patel will also become the fourth Indian cricketer to play in the LPL after his teammate Irfan Pathan and Manvinder Bisla and Manpreet Gony with both representing the Colombo Kings Team. Patel will add more muscle to the Kandy Tuskers bowling attack, which also includes some local talent including Nuwan Pradeep, Seekkuge Prasanna and Dilruwan Perera. The Kandy Tuskers will be led by wicket-keeper batsman Kusal Perera and coached by former Sri Lanka Test skipper Hashan Tillakaratne.
Kandy Tuskers take on the Colombo Kings in the curtain-raiser match of this inaugural tournament on Thursday (26) at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium in Hambantota.
The ground staff is currently engaged in preparing the venue, which will hold a record 23 matches in 15 days, including the finals of the much-awaited LPL on December 16. In total, the venue will have 10 center wickets ready for the tournament, whilst all 10 wickets will be used during the competition.
“We are working full scale to ensure that we deliver good quality playing wickets for the tournament and I am confident that we can achieve this gigantic task successfully,” said, Godfrey Dabrera, Manager, International Venues and Facilities of the SLC.
The venue will have 25 practice (side) wickets ready for practice purposes and all those wickets will have floodlight facilities built-in, thus providing under light practice facilities for the teams.
Apart from preparing the existing player dressing rooms to be in line with planned health guidelines, another two new dressing rooms will also be constructed to ensure that all teams are given a separate ‘Dressing Room’, during the days where double headers will be conducted.
With the arrival of the Galle Gladiators team in Hambantota, all participating teams are now in Hambantota. The LPL will be worked off subject to strict and stringent health guidelines specified by the health authorities.
Meanwhile, Independent Television Network (ITN) have won the telecasting rights of the tournament within Sri Lanka while Sky Sports have bagged the rights for the UK and Geo TV and PTV will be the broadcasters for Pakistan.
The State-owned network, ITN, which runs on a free-to-air basis will take the games to all corners of Sri Lanka earning a strong follower base for the tournament.
“Sport has reach like few others and an immense power to bring positive social change through the actions and words of its athletes. Cricket is the sport Sri Lanka can associate itself with, and the game that can bring in that kind of change in the Island Nation. It gives me an immense sense of satisfaction to partner LPL and be part of this social change that will go a long way in helping the nation grow through cricket,” said the Chairman of ITN Sudath Rohana.
Sky Sports, Director of Cricket, Bryan Henderson added, “Sky Sports are delighted to be broadcasting the Lanka Premier League this year as the appetite for T20 cricket grows across the globe. Sri Lankans have always played an exciting brand of limited overs cricket and we look forward to seeing more talent emerge from this tournament as well as following many other stars from around the world.”
With a Pakistan based franchise – Galle Gladiators – taking part in the tournament and several Pakistani stars being part of the event will create a massive reach in Pakistan for the tournament.
“It’s indeed a pleasure to be associated with Lankan Premier League as broadcast partners. I believe the show has to go on despite the challenges we face due to Covid-19 pandemic. I congratulate all the stakeholders and IPG Group for providing us the opportunity of becoming part of a fantastic event. We shall give our best to contribute in its success,” Dr Nauman Niaz, head of PTV Sports was quoted by the SLC.
“LPL’s broadcasting partner’s – Sky, Sony, Geo and PTV – global reach will help the League grow in stature and will help the League connect with millions of fans across the globe,” the tournament director Ravin Wickramaratne.