Lanka Premier League - review

One of the stranger tournaments in the cricketing calendar came to its conclusion just before Christmas. In many ways it’s slightly mercurial, you never really know what’s going on in regards to tournament logistics and it seems to start without anyone really knowing, such is the lack of promotion it gets. When everyone eventually realises it’s taking place, we usually get a relatively decent standard of cricket, particularly between some of the better sides in the league. It’s hard to truly assess the overall quality of this league, given we’ve only had two tournaments and it’s generally a shorter tournament than most leagues. However, what I will say is that certain aspects are of a high level than most will give credit for and despite lacking ‘star overseas’ players, at least this season anyway, there were still some quality overseas players in this tournament.

Like last season we had the unusual scenario where only five teams were in the league, four of which made it through to the knockout rounds. I can’t quite understand the need to stick with four teams, it gives mediocre sides the chance of causing an upset in knockout rounds, when they don’t really deserve to be there and with the variance in t20’s, those upsets would be entirely possible. As it were, the two teams that finished 1st and 2nd in the group stages, played each other in the final, so we avoided any such issues of unwarranted finalists but it’s something I’d look to address in the future, if the LPL is only going to be a 5–6 team league. The plus side for this season was that they at least returned to the ‘Page-play off system’ (eliminator/qualifier) rather than the straight semi-final format that was utilised last season. Which could’ve resulted in a cricketing tragedy after Galle Gladiators advanced through to the semi-finals (finishing 4th), despite winning only two of eight matches, fortunately though they lost in the final to Jaffna Kings. Speaking of those two teams, they played each other again in this year’s final and the same outcome prevailed, Jaffna managing to defend their total of 201, in order to win the tournament for a second year on the trot.

What we saw in this season’s LPL was fairly bizarre, it was essentially what we’ve seen in recent CPL seasons, on steroids, with slightly better pitches at times:

If you thought the last two season’s of CPL had been spin dominant, it can’t even compete with this latest edition of LPL. No tournament in the last three years has seen a greater percentage of deliveries bowled by spin, nor has there been one with a greater economy rate difference between pace & spin bowlers. While it’s fair to say the spinners got some (a lot) of assistance at times, you’ve also got to credit the quality of spin on display, with the top eight spin bowlers (from a wicket taking point of view) taking 62% of the overall wickets taken by spinners, despite only bowling just over 50% of the deliveries. On the other hand, it’s hard to doubt that there was considerable help for the spinners this season, given a far greater percentage of deliveries were bowled by overseas pace bowlers in comparison to spinners (52.96% in comparison to 29%). This could also tell us that pace bowling recruitment wasn’t very good, rather than it be solely down to the quality of pitches.

On another note hopefully we get to see more games at Hambantota next season, after the knockout matches were held there this time around and we saw a much better quality of cricket for those games, with a run rate of 8.43 rpo, in comparison to 7.37 for the games in Colombo.

As I mentioned earlier, Jaffna managed to win the tournament for a second successive season and it’s difficult to really begrudge them of that success:

While they didn’t necessarily excel as much as a bowling side, they were still 2nd best and comfortably better than the tournament average. From a batting perspective, they were the best by a distance, almost 1.3 rpo ahead of everyone else. Galle were the best bowling side but couldn’t back it up with their batting performances.

Unsurprisngly given their batting prowess, Jaffna were the best boundary hitting side by a distance and it wasn’t just centered around one player, five of their six batters that faced over 50 deliveries had boundary percentages of over 18%, which was well above the tournament average of 15.92%. Once again no other team really got close to Jaffna, Galle were once again best with the ball and Dambulla/Kandy leaked a lot more boundaries than the other teams.

Ironically despite their dominance in the graph above it wasn’t even the area in which they were strongest:

They absoloutely dominated from a six hitting and limiting the number of sixes they conceded point of view and were about as close to the ideal top left hand corner that you’ll ever see a team in t20 cricket. In terms of performance levels, no other team really got close to them, having a strong core of domestic players and good overseas recruitment was key to their success.

Undoubtedly it was their batting that stole the headlines but it’s also worth mentioning that the bowlers also did a good job, as they were still above tournament average for most bowling metrics. A side that had multiple wicket takers, which allowed them to bowl three teams out for 110 or under during the course of the tournament:

Here we can see the true impact of spin in this tournament, with four of the five teams bowling over 50% of their delivieries through spinners. In truth, for a side like Colombo, not recognising tournament trends early enough likely cost them a shot at top two, bowling a far lower percentage of delivieres through spin than any other team. Perhaps they felt they didn’t have enough quality in their spin department, which is another issue itself, as it should be a fairly obvious focus ahead of the tournament. The two finalists (Galle & Jaffna) bowled the greatest percentage of deliveries through spin and were also the most economical, while Jaffna’ spinners took wickets most regularly, not all that surprising given they had a domestic spin duo of Hasaranga & Theekshana, with Chaturanga de Silva and Malik also thrown in for good measure, meaning they had most bases covered in the spin department.

In terms of pace bowling, it was a similar story for most teams, they were a second thought and it was a case of damage limitation whenever you tried to use them. Unsurprisingly Jaffna probably got the most use out of theirs, with their pace bowlers having the best strike rate by a distance and a slightly better economy rate than the tournament average. Colombo’s pace bowlers were joint most econimcal with Galle, further highlighting that they were probably only one top draw spinner away from finishing in the the top two, instead of third.

Having looked at team performances as a whole, which individuals faired well in this season’s tournament?

Ravi Bopara removed because he was only dismissed twice and distorts the group — he had a strike rate of 113.6 and balls per dismissal rate of every 62.5 balls.

If we look at a basic balls per dismissal vs strike rate chart, there are a few obvious standouts. Firstly Thisara Perera, was the fastest scorer by a distance, he is a hulk in this league and while he is involved in a good team set up, this compeitions suits his game perfectly. Thisara might not be the highest quality of player, but what he is good (elite) at, is hitting average/slight above average ‘pace’ bowling and that’s a valuable skill in itself. Dinesh Chandimal also experienced success in his new ‘finishing’ role, batting between 5 & 7 (mainly at 6) seemed to work for him, allowing himself a bit of time to get ‘set’ but could also go from ball one if needed. Chandimal struck at 134 in the first 10 balls of his innings and above 160 after that. Overseas players Phil Salt and Kohler-Cadmore both had strong tournaments, finishing as third and fourth leading run scorers respectively, in leagues that you wouldn’t necessarily say suit their skillset, it’s an impressive achievement and certainly won’t have harmed their development. In addition to volume of runs, they both scored at an above average rate and Salt was one of the best at utilising the powerplay (SR 160), which was particularly important this season. Differing methods of course, Salt is someone that bats with intent from ball one, while Kohler-Cadmore is more akin to a ‘modern day anchor.’

Kusal Mendis and Avishka Fernando finished as the two leading run scorers this season and they had similar output - averaging in the mid 30’s and striking at around 150. Slightly differing methods, Avishka is generally a slower starter and is bit feast or famine, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in t20’s, while Kusal is generally more free flowing from ball one:

Two different methods that largely led to similar results, it’s part of what makes the shorter formats so interesting.

Now, who were the best boundary hitters:

Colour of dot indicates balls per six; Thisara Perera the best — every 7.14 balls, Dhananjaya the worst — one six in 128 deliveries faced.

It’s no surprise that Thisara once again dominated in this regard, hitting 28 boundares in the 100 balls he faced, although it’s a relative slump in comparison to his performance last season, where he managed to hit 41 in 117 deliveries! Phil Salt and Avishka Fernando were next best when it came to boundary percentages. Chandimal, Malik and Mendis were all slightly above average boundary hitters (Malik was a strong six hitter) but were among the best strike rotators, with non-boundary strike rates in the high 70's/low 80’s. Ravi Bopara and Samit Patel were poor from a boundary hitting perspective, with numbers that were below the tournament average. A couple of players that underwhelmed were Najibullah and Shanaka, it’s fair to say we would’ve expected more from both of these at this level. Although Najibullah did mainly bat in the trickier overs, facing nearly 85% of his deliveries between overs 7–16. While Shanaka failed to get near the level of performances he showed in last season’s tournament.

As I mentioned above, there were certain phases of the game that were much more difficult to bat in than others, predominantly overs 7–16:

From this we can see that the middle overs were generally very difficult, so we need to consider that:

Colour of dot indicates balls faced between overs 7–16; Najibullah faced the most with 84.44, Salt the least with 26.67

It’s not surprising that a lot of the batters that struggled, were ones that faced a large percentage of their deliveries during this phase. Anomalies to this were once again Thisara and Chandimal, while Tom Banton just struggled in general, hopefully he can have a better 2022 than his 2021. We can also see that Salt benefitted from facing a high percentage of his deliveries in the powerplay’s, but I don’t think that takes anything away from his performances, his primarly role is to make use of powerplay’s and he did just that.

It’s a little messy but it’s probably worth highlighting the average for both spin and pace, given the vast difference between performance of the two bowling types. As you can see, there wasn’t even many pace bowlers that bowled more than 20 overs this season, with only 10 of the 16 bowlers that did so being spin bowlers. Of those six, there were two clear standouts; Naveen-Ul-Haq and Jayden Seales. Naveen was the most economical pace bowler by a distance, helped by bowling 40% of his deliveries through the middle overs and there’s also no doubt that the conditions suited his heavy slower ball style of bowling. While Seales was a standout wicket taker, in addition to being well above average in terms of economy rate. Hopefully a sign of things to come for Seales, who should become a high level bowler in all formats. Obviously a strike rate of around 8 is unsustainable but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to have sizeable impact across most t20 leagues across the world.

As for the spin bowlers, four managed to be above average from both an economy and wicket taking perspective, with Samit Patel and Imran Tahir probably impressing the most. Vimukthi had bowled less overs than the other three, only bowling 20 overs in comparison to 30+ for Prassana, Tahir and Patel. One player the graph doesn’t necessarily do justice to is Maheesh Theekshana, who finished the tournament as joint leading wicket taker and was around the tournament average for economy rate. Perhaps what was more impressive was that he bowled over 60% of his deliveries in powerplay’s, which is a very valuable asset to have as a spinner. There weren’t really any spinners that had overwhelmingly poor tournaments, further highlighting the conditions but Kamindu and Ramesh Mendis were below average for both economy rate and strike rate.

Now to look at bowlers in terms of limiting boundaries and bowling dot balls:

The first name that stands out here is Noor Ahmad - the left arm wrist spinner from Afghanistan, who didn’t appear to have an amazing tournament from the first graph but when we look at his numbers from a boundary percentage conceded perspective, he was the best. He beat the next best by almost 3% (also only conceded two sixes), which is a fairly considerable margin, these numbers can’t be sniffed at, particularly when they’re bettering established spinners like Tahir, Patel and Hasaranga.

Fellow Afghan bowler Naveen-Ul-Haq was the only pace bowler that was above the tournament average when it came to limiting boundaries conceded, with all of the other five pace bowlers that bowled more than 20 overs coneding boundaries with more than 17% of their deliveries, in comparison to 10.3 for Naveen. Seales and Thushara bowled a high percentage of dot balls and Chameera was right on the tournament average in this regard, while Pradeep and Lakmal just struggled in general.

Overall despite some less than ideal conditions at times, I enjoyed the tournament and it looks to be a good tournament for slightly under the radar overseas players to build a name for themselves. I’m not sure on the rules in regards to rententions etc but the rest of the league look to be playing catch up to Jaffna, who are seemingly in a league of their own when it comes to squad buidling.

That concludes this article.

Thanks for reading!

Stats: cricmetric

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