Ragama CC, SSC take early lead for league title
Ragama Cricket Club and Sinhalese Sports Club have recorded early wins in the Premier League Tier A tournament, giving them the early lead in 10-team event. The difference in points between the two teams at the end of the first two rounds was marginal, pointing out to a close tussle for honour as the new season progresses.
Ragama CC began the season with a crushing six-wicket win over Lankan CC in a low-scoring match. The architect of Ragama's victory was the left-arm medium-fast bowler from Kandy, Nilanka Premaratne, who returned the season's best figures of 8 for 53 in the first innings. Twenty wickets fell for 273 runs on a sensational opening day. Lankan CC were bundled out for 118 and Ragama after batting themselves into a strong position at 101 for 2 collapsed dramatically losing their remaining eight wickets for 40 runs. Left-armer Gayan Sirisoma picked up 6 for 22. Anyone looking at the scoreboard would have thought that there was something radically wrong with the pitch. Although Lankan CC could not be faulted for their dismal batting when Premaratne made the ball talk, Ragama simply threw away the chance to build a huge first innings total with some senseless batting.
Lankan CC put up a better performance with the bat in their second innings, reaching 211, leaving Ragama 189 for victory. By stumps on the second day Ragama had wiped out 104 of those runs losing just one wicket and duly achieved victory early on the third day after losing three further wickets to Sirisoma.
In their next game against Moors SC, Ragama were rattled when the home side put up 319 at 4.5 runs an over. Despite Rumesh Buddika's second consecutive half-century, Ragama lost their first six wickets for 219 and were in a tight situation until 22-year-old Sachith Pathirana came to their rescue with a maiden first-class hundred. Pathirana who had spent his first three years with Colombo CC, made his presence felt for the new club by scoring an entertaining 117 off 93 balls from No. 8, which included seven sixes. With Madura Lakmal (36), Pathirana added 92 for the eighth wicket to give Ragama a first innings lead of 89. Moors showed that they were made of stern stuff by hammering out 345-4 in 77 overs in their second innings with Kanchana Gunawardene, Moeen Ali and skipper Bathiya Perera each scoring their second half-centuries of the match. But the match ended in a draw.
Two double-centuries by opening batsmen featured in SSC's drawn game against Tamil Union at the P Sara Oval where SSC grabbed the first-innings honours. Former England Under-19 captain and Warwickshire opener Varun Chopra made a memorable debut for Tamil Union with a well-paced 233 off 348 balls that enabled the club to post a challenging 416. SSC responded magnificently to the challenge and replied with 535 for 6 declared with Sri Lanka Test opener Tharanga Paranavitana compiling 216 off 375 balls, supported by centuries from captain Kaushal Silva and former Sri Lanka spinner Kaushal Lokuarachchi.
Taking confidence from that batting performance SSC went on to beat Lankan CC by seven wickets in their next game played at the SSC grounds. Skipper Silva followed up his 120 against Tamil Union with another composed knock of 100 out of 199. Lankan CC having conceded a first innings lead of 81, closed their second innings at 340 for 6, with opener Ashen Silva scoring an unbeaten century, leaving themselves a minimum of 50 overs to bowl SSC out.
But SSC took up the challenge of making 260 for victory, scoring at nearly five and a half runs an over to cross the line by the 48th over. SSC's run chase began badly when they lost three wickets for 83 by the 18th over, but Sri Lanka batsman Thilan Samaraweera and Lokuarachchi, who hit a run-a-ball hundred, shared an unfinished stand of 177 off 30 overs to see SSC home.
Tamil Union was the only other club to record a win in the first fortnight of matches trouncing a hapless Badureliya SC by an innings on their home turf at P Sara Oval. The highlight of the match was Sri Lanka T20 fast bowler Isuru Udana's maiden first-class century. Tamil Union were 221 for 6 when he walked into the middle and he stroked an undefeated 109 off 124 balls that enabled them to eventually reach 420 for 9 declared. With his captain Sachithra Serasinghe (154), Udana added 171 for the seventh wicket. Badureliya collapsed for 217 and 133 to hand out to Tamil Union victory before lunch on the final day.
Colombo Colts, who ended runner-up to Bloomfield last season, came on top in both their drawn games against the defending champs and Nondescripts CC to occupy third spot in the standings. Former Sri Lanka fast bowler Chaminda Vaas lifted the Colts from a shaky 224 for 6 in the second innings against Bloomfield to a comfortable 402, contributing 65 out of a stand of 120. Colts came within two wickets of pulling off a win when they had Bloomfield struggling at 169 for 8 after setting them 430 to chase.
Against NCC too, Colts were unlucky to fall short by two wickets to record a win after forcing their opponents to follow-on. Replying to Colts' score of 406 for 9 declared built on an opening partnership of 179 between Harsha Vithana and Nisal Randika who were both dismissed in the nineties and Roshan Silva's unbeaten century, NCC were dismissed for 221, but held out in their second innings to finish on 216 for 8.
For fourth-placed Chilaw Marians, left-arm spinner Malinda Pushpakukmara and middle-order batsman Janaka Gunaratne returned career best performances. Pushpakumara had figures of 8 for 139 against Moors SC in the second innings and in the same match Gunaratne scored an exciting 180 off 187 balls.
Chilaw Marians cricketers continued to improve on their personal performances when two other players came up with career-best scores in their second match of the season against Bloomfield. Harsha Cooray scored 231 and former under-19 player Umesh Karunaratne hit his maiden first-class century (114 not out).
Sri Lanka Army who were demoted to Tier B, made a determined effort to regain their former position in Tier A by the end of the season. They began with two consecutive victories which placed them on top of the standings with 32 points, four more than second placed Navy SC.