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Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Kusal Mendis takes Reds to victory after Theekshana's bowling impact

Kusal Mendis kept Sri Lanka going till the end AFP/Getty Images

SLC Reds 137 for 3 (Kusal Mendis 56*) beat SLC Blues 136 for 6 (Bandara 40*) by seven wickets

An unbeaten 56 from Kusal Mendis anchored a relatively straightforward chase as SLC Reds secured a seven-wicket victory over SLC Blues to win the SLC Invitational T20 League.

The tournament was organised at the eleventh hour, as the economic crisis enveloping Sri Lanka had forced the postponement of the Lanka Premier League. The idea was to allow fringe players to catch the eye of selectors ahead of the Asia Cup, and for those already in the national fold to cement their places.

And for Reds, it was the national team stalwarts that produced the goods on the big occasion.

Chasing down a modest target of 137, Reds barely broke a sweat, stitching partnerships together with ease, with Reds skipper Mendis a mainstay in each of them. The first was a 49-run opening stand with Lasith Croospulle, followed by partnerships of 19, 33 and 36, with Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Kamindu Mendis and Wanindu Hasaranga respectively.

It was Hasaranga's 14-ball 24-run cameo in the end that brought proceedings to a brisk close, as he walloped four boundaries in his brief stint, two of which came in what turned out to be the final over of the game.

Praveen Jayawickrama was the pick of an otherwise ineffective Blues attack, picking up figures of 2 for 34.

Credit, however, must go to Mendis, who blunted the rest of the attack with timely boundaries and was then content to turn over the strike, with scoreboard pressure a non-issue. His 56 came off 45 deliveries, and included four boundaries and a six. It was a mature knock, and one slightly more circumspect than his blistering 86 in the previous match - also against Blues.

It meant that Reds would remain in control of proceedings for nearly the entirety of the game, with their bowlers having earlier put in a solid performance to throttle Blues' batters.

Maheesh Theekshana and the in-form Asitha Fernando picked up two wickets each, while Dunith Wellalage and Lahiru Madushanka grabbed one apiece. It was Theekshana who proved to be the proverbial battering ram, once again striking inside the powerplay in what is fast becoming his forte.

He struck off the last ball of his second over, the third of the game, trapping Lahiru Samarakoon lbw, before completing a sensational return catch at the start of his next over to dismiss a dangerous-looking Sadeera Samarawickrama. This put him on a hat-trick, but while that feat was not meant to be he saw to it that his side started off on the front foot - an advantage they would scarcely look like surrendering as the match wore on.

Matheesha Pathirana and, surprisingly, Hasaranga went wicketless, though the latter was miserly, giving away 24 in his four overs. Indeed, all the bowlers employed by Reds proved largely economical, with only Pathirana on the expensive side going for 20 runs in his two overs.

For Blues it was Lahiru Udara, the wicketkeeper-batter opening the innings, skipper Dhananjaya de Silva and Ashen Bandara - not for the first time this tournament - at No. 5, who managed to put up any sort of resistance, scoring 37, 25 and 40 respectively.

Udara put on a 39-run stand with Dhananjaya following the early losses of Samarakoon and Samarawickrama. The partnership was just beginning to look threatening, with Dhananjaya in particular starting to find the boundaries, when he was stumped off Dunith Wellalage.

Blues' worries were compounded when Udara fell shortly after, but Bandara took over, tacking together a 42-run partnership with Janith Liyanage. Liyanage would account for just 12 of those runs, as Bandara took charge, striking four boundaries in his 30-ball effort.

Bandara, the spritely 23-year-old, would remain unbeaten, striking a boundary in each of the final three overs of the innings, but a lack of support at the other end meant only one outcome was ever likely.

Reds 2nd innings Partnerships

WktRunsPlayers
1st49BKG MendisL Croospulle
2nd19PBB RajapaksaBKG Mendis
3rd33BKG MendisPHKD Mendis
4th36BKG MendisPWH de Silva