History beckons as Jaffna Stallions look to beat the odds one last time

Vijayakanth Viyaskanth receives his maiden T20 cap from Thisara Perera LPL

The Jaffna Stallions' road to the final has been littered with games that they've won despite having at some point been behind the proverbial eight ball. Oddly enough, many of these games they've gone on to win comfortably, though those have been largely down to some stellar individual efforts.

The most memorable such occurrence came in just their second game of the tournament against Dambulla Viiking. Having found themselves staring down the barrel at 64 for 5, Thisara Perera's 44-ball 97-run shellacking would set up a dominant 66-run win. Then against the Kandy Tuskers, it was again Perera, this time with a little help from Dhananjaya De Silva, that helped the Stallions to a comfortable 54-run win, after yet another slow start where they had found themselves 26 for 2 at the end of the powerplay. Then in a win against the Galle Gladiators, set up by the excellence of Wanindu Hasaranga, what should have been a comfortable chase was made a little nervy by the loss of a flurry of late wickets.

But on other occasions - albeit after semifinal qualification was secured, and complacency may have set in - these blips and lapses in concentration have been rather more costly. The Stallions' first loss of the tournament could have been a lot more devastating had it not been for a Hasaranga cameo late-on that helped put up a semi-competitive target of 149. In their loss to the Viiking, it was Shoaib Malik's 44-ball 59 that would get them up to 150. While in their final loss of the tournament, a late thrust by Thisara and co wasn't enough to overhaul a gettable target of 174, after the top and middle order had let the required rate get away from them.

Even in their 37-run semifinal win over the Viiking, if not for Hasaranga's golden arm and Usman Shinwari's laser-guided throws, it could have all been so different.

In fact, the only game you could say they were in control almost throughout was their opening encounter, incidentally against their finals opponents the Gladiators. Save for some vintage Shahid Afridi pyrotechnics, the Stallions had the best of proceedings, making light work of a 176 target, cruising home with eight wickets in hand.

But if you listen to Stallions skipper Perera, this seeming dependence on individual performances is more by design than chance. Indeed, with a batting lineup that snakes along all the way to No.8, and a plethora of all-rounders to call on either with the bat or ball, Perera's confidence that someone will deliver on the day doesn't seem all that misplaced.

"We can't predict what will happen out there, when you will need to come in to bat etc. But at all times we try and do what we think is best for the team - you're not always going to get it right though," Thisara said on the eve of the final.

"But I do expect our batting to click far more than it did in the semifinal, we bat deep because we have a lot of allrounders. So all we need is even one or two from the top eight - like Johnson Charles the other day - to hit form.

"T20 cricket is also geared in such a way that it can very easily turn into a 'one-man show,' where any bowler or batsman can take the game away from you. For us the most important thing is to play each ball on its merits. If we plan too much also, I don't think it'll be a successful strategy. We need to constantly reevaluate the situation from over to over."

This ability to make decisions on the fly will undoubtedly come in handy when they take on a Gladiators side that has changed considerably since the Stallions' group stage encounters against them. Those games saw the Stallions' batters find proceedings as comfortable as they had at any point across the tournament, though they will be keenly aware of the improvements the Gladiators have undergone since those early tussles.

"At no point will we underestimate our opponents, I said this before the semi-final as well. It really comes to which team on the day makes the least amount of mistakes."

If there are any concerns for the Stallions, it would be with regard to their tendency to sometimes lose wickets in clusters, while their running between the wickets hasn't showered them in glory either.

"There's not much you can do about it (run outs) sometimes, because it depends on the talent of the fielder and whether they can execute their skills at that time. But of course batsmen need to be mindful as well, because if we don't call properly then that can lead to misunderstandings in the middle. That's also part of the game though, mistakes happen, so we shouldn't dwell too much on it.

"[In terms of our batting] we're confident going into the final, even if we might have a slight problem to address in terms of losing wickets in quick succession. But the most important thing is that we collectively put in a performance on the day, as a team - cricket is after all a team game.

"In the last game our top order gave us a good start, but our middle order wasn't able to capitalise on it - but in the same vein in previous games the middle order has bailed us out after the top order failed. This is why I think, as a team we're in a good place, and we're looking forward to the final."