11 Feb 2018

Preview: Hong Kong T20 Blitz final

After five days of high quality T20 action we now know that the Kumar Sangakkara-inspired Galaxy Gladiators Lantau will face off against high-scoring Hung Hom JD Jaguars in Sunday’s grand finale, in a repeat of the record-breaking clash between the sides on Friday that saw 450 runs scored including 30 sixes.

The success of both teams has primarily been down to their batting prowess.  To emphasise that point for the Jaguars, the only occasion that they have lost more than four wickets was in attempting to chase down the Gladiators' mammoth score of 228/7 on Friday, when they also lost seven wickets in falling just six runs short.  Even then they’d only lost five wickets going in to the final over.

For the Gladiators Sri-Lankan legend Sangakkara has led the way with 235 runs in his four innings to lead the tournament batting stats.  After an underwhelming first innings Sangakkara has played sublimely, scoring 223 from the last 117 balls he’s faced.  He's been backed up ably by fellow overseas stars Anton Devcich (128 runs at a strike-rate of 150) and Cameron Delport (90 runs at 143).

The runs have been shared around more evenly through the Jaguars batting line-up.  South African Johan Botha hit his highest ever T20 total of 86 from just 43 balls in sealing their final spot by overcoming the winless Hong Kong Island United on Saturday, whilst Riki Wessels led the team home against last year’s champions Kowloon Cantons on Wednesday, battering an unbeaten 91 off just 37 deliveries. 

Dutchman Roelof van der Merwe was to the fore in the Jaguars’ valiant chasing effort on Friday, hitting 75 from 34 balls, whilst Hong Kong opener Nizakat Khan has also stepped up, most notably in setting the platform for the Jaguars successful chase against City Kaitak in the opening match of the tournament.

In the bowling stakes the Gladiators attack have complemented each other superbly. Pakistani Imran Arif is the tournament’s joint-leading wicket-taker with eight scalps, whilst experienced Kiwi James Franklin has seven to his name and 18-year-old Hong Kong starlet Arshad Mohammad has also taken seven wickets as the stand-out homegrown player.

In a similar fashion to how the Gladiators have been indebted to Sangakkara’s prowess with the bat, the Jaguars have been heavily reliant on Australian Ben Laughlin’s skills with the ball.  It’s somewhat surprising that Laughlin isn’t featuring in Australia’s team that is currently bossing the tri-nations T20 competition.  Instead he’ll be looking forward to playing his second final in a week, having played a key part in Adelaide Strikers’ victory in the BBL last Sunday.  He’s followed those heroics up by taking wickets in each match this week, with eight scalps in total at an impressive economy rate of just 6.18.

Laughlin is bound to have a major say in tomorrow’s events, but perhaps the player to look out for most is one guy who I’ve not yet even mentioned.  West Indian superstar Darren Sammy has had a relatively quiet tournament by his standards so far, but don’t be surprised if he steps up when it really matters.  Sammy is my pick as the key player for the Jaguars tomorrow, and it’s impossible to look beyond Sangakkara as the player holding the key for the Gladiators.

Sunday’s final will take place at 2pm local time, and will be broadcast live to a potential global audience of 175 million viewers.  As Riki Wessels told me earlier in the week, ‘The TV deal is massive.  It gets the tournament out to more people and showcases the local players to give them more exposure’. 

Whoever wins, there can be no doubt that tournament has been a huge success, and the Blitz has well and truly secured its place on the roll-call of ‘must-play’ T20 tournaments for the world’s leading players.  There’s little doubting the two teams facing off tomorrow will do the whole tournament justice, and if we see a match even half as entertaining as Friday’s match-up we’ll all be in for a fantastic spectacle.