How the game played out
Outside of Shahid Afridi's furious 23-ball 58, Jaffna Stallions were almost totally in control. They slowed Galle Gladiators down after the Gladiators got a decent start with the bat, made breakthroughs through the middle overs, thanks partly to an outstanding spell from Wanindu Hasaranga, and prevented Afridi from turning a good score into an imposing one.
With the bat, the Stallions were measured but insistent, never allowing the required rate to get very high, even when Avishka Fernando - their star local batsman - was struggling early on. Part of the refusal to panic, was perhaps grounded on the knowledge that 176 was gettable on a fast outfield that was increasingly being slicked by dew.
The rest was just trust in their skills and experience. Avishka recovered from a score of 10 off 20 at the end of the seventh over, to hit seven sixes and finish on 92 not out off 63. At the other end, Shoaib Malik - the most experienced T20 players in the most experienced player in the tournament - just kept turning the strike over to Avishka, and let him track the target down virtually on his own. Avishka hit 74 off 40 balls in Malik company, and Stallions waltzed home with three balls remaining.
What was most impressive about the Stallions' win, was that they didn't need to use their depth. Dhananjaya de Silva was not required with bat or ball, and Thisara Perera's batting went unused as well. Even Malik, who did actually bat, never saw it necessary to move out of third gear.
Stars of the match (aside from Avishka)
Hasaranga's 2 for 12 off four overs headlined a solid Stallions bowling effort, for the team which - at least on paper - seems to have the best attack in the competition. One of their overseas bowlers - Kyle Abbott - had an expensive start to the tournament, but Hasaranga's control allowed Stallions the leeway to have a few bad overs. He also took the wickets of Azam Khan, and the dangerous Danushka Gunathilaka.
On the fast-bowling front, meanwhile, Duanne Olivier - the quickest on show in this match - took 4 for 44 from his four overs.
The Gladiators would barely have been competitive if not for Afridi. He came to the crease with the Gladiators struggling at 92 for four after 13.1 overs, and bashed six sixes - four of them off a single Olivier over - to complete a 20-ball fifty, and propel the Gladiators to a decent score.
The big miss
Hasaranga did make a major mistake in this game, which perhaps turned what might have been a cakewalk for the Stallions into a slightly more competitive game. When Afridi was on 18, he mishit a ball to deep midwicket, where Chaturanga de Silva was lining up the catch beautifully. Hasaranga, though, ran across from deep square leg and attempted to steal the catch, and in the course of all this, dropped it. Afridi would go on to hit 40 off the next 11 balls.
Thankfully for Hasaranga, he'd done enough with the ball, and the Stallions had enough talent at the top of their order to see them through.