With more teams, more internationals and more entertainment, the second edition of the Aussie Cricket League was bigger and better than ever.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same, with coach Bathiya Perera leading the Sri Lanka XI to their second successive title.
“We were optimistic, but there were a lot of unknowns, especially because a lot of the teams had strengthened,” Perera said.
“To go back-to-back, that’s huge. At the start of the season we were optimistic and having a very open mind, we had the capacity to go all the way and a very good overall side.
“The experience the playing group had, especially the two internationals, many others have played first-class cricket, the other boys play Subbies or a high standard of local cricket in Victoria.
“We were pretty confident we could adapt to win in any situation, which we did.”
The internationals Perera mentioned was a headline of the most recent instalment of the ACL, which aims to blend the best local talent with past greats, all while giving them a platform to showcase their skill.
Ben Laughlin and Nathan Reardon turned out for Australia, Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Amir for Pakistan, Nuwan Kulasakera and Mahela Udawatte for Sri Lanka, while other names included Manpreet Gony and Shaminda Eranga.
Kulasekara - who was formerly the world number one ODI bowler - and Udawatte were very “easy going” in the eyes of Perera.
“They were very supportive of what we wanted to achieve as a team, so it was very easy to work with them.”
The great Lasith Malinga was also a bowling mentor for the Sri Lanka XI.
“He (Malinga) brings in World Cup experience… and he’s someone who’s played a lot of cricket all over the world, especially with the franchises. Having someone who can share that kind of experience with other players is phenomenal,” Perera said.
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The tournament sees the six teams (Sri Lanka XI, Pakistan XI, Australia XI, Afghanistan XI, India XI, and World XI) split into two pools of three, with round robin matches determining who qualifies for the semi-finals.
Sri Lanka defeated Australia in their first game but fell to Afghanistan in their second, although the circumstances of the loss were somewhat intriguing. Afghanistan won by three runs yet they’d been awarded five penalty runs due to Sri Lanka’s slow over rate. It’s worth noting this was the only incident where that penalty was incurred and the rule was later scrapped.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka qualified second in their group and had to take on the formidable India XI in their semi-final.
“We batted first, we made 137, and we were the only team to score that many runs batting first,” Perera recalls.
“It was a winning score, but India batted superbly and only needed seven runs in six balls with six wickets in hand.
“But then there was a twist.”
Enter Arosh Janohda.
The destructive quick began his over with the timeliest of hat-tricks, flipping the script and leaving India reeling. They would only manage two runs from the final three balls, falling five runs short.
Janohda would replicate his three-wicket effort in the grand final against the Pakistan XI, earning himself player of the match honours in consecutive finals and thrusting himself into the team of the tournament in the process.
In the decider, Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat.
“If we bowled first we were thinking of restricting them to under 100, which we thought was gettable with our batting, but anything over 110, 120 would’ve been a handful with that bowling attack, especially with the class of Amir,” Perera revealed.
“They batted smart, but we were able to control the whole batting innings… to keep them to 8-104 in their 20.
“Everybody did their part, and we chased it down with five wickets in hand in the 18th over.
“Dilan Chandima opened the batting and got 20-odd, then Malith Cooray finished the game with 20 not out. All the others chipped in, which was huge.”
When asked who his biggest contributors were across the whole tournament, Perera refused to give credit to any one or two players, instead listing almost his entire squad and how each individual contributed, such was the collective nature of their dominance.
Perera wasn’t only grateful for his team’s success, but to everyone that made the tournament possible.
“I’d like to thank Harry Sandhu and the organising committee for putting together such a good tournament, and the Cranbourne Cricket Club for allowing us to use their facilities and making it all possible.”
Aussie Cricket League Team of the Tournament
Mahela Udawatte (SL)
Talwinder Prince (IND)
Mohammad Amir (PAK)
Jaskaranveer Sohi (IND)
Adam Amin (AFG)
Kamran Akmal (PAK)
Nathan Reardon (AUS)
Tej Gandhi (IND)
Nuwan Kulasekara (SL)
Aziz Ullah (PAK)
Arosh Janohda (SL)
Fawad Malook (PAK)
Mentor - Lasith Malinga (SL)
Coach - Bathiya Perera (SL)