Moors, SSC move into finals
Moors Sports Club beat Panadura Sports Club by seven runs in a thrilling, final-round match of the Premier League tournament. The win put Moors at the top of Group A and helped them book a place in next weekend's final.
Moors, who were placed second before this match, needed an outright victory over leaders Panadura to secure a final berth. Panadura won the toss and put the opposition into bat on a result-oriented pitch. Moors were dismissed for 240, thanks largely to a five-wicket haul by Gayan Sirisoma. Panadura, though, were skittled for exactly half that score in their first innings as Malinda Pushpakumara took 7 for 56, dismissing five of the top six batsmen. Sirisoma grabbed another five wickets in the second innings as Moors fell for 130 with none of their batsmen crossing an individual score of 20. That collapse gave Panadura a second chance, but they fell eight runs short of a target of 251, in spite of contributions from Chamara Silva, Prasanna Jayawardene and Dinesh Ranga Cooray. The last-wicket pair of Sirisoma and Sujeewa de Silva added 23 runs together before de Silva was given out lbw, ending Panadura's season.
In Group B, a run fest helped Sinhala Sports Club (SSC) keep Tamil Union at bay as they qualified for the final, which will be played on their home ground. SSC captain Thilina Kandamby's unbeaten 340, which broke the Sri Lankan first-class record for the highest individual score set by Kusal Perera two weeks ago, was the standout performance of the round.
A Tamil Union bowling attack, that featured Chanaka Welegedera, Suranga Lakmal and Rangana Herath, failed to prevent SSC from scoring a massive 787 for 8, nullifying Tamil Union's chances of an outright win. Dimuth Karunaratne was the first of three centurions, hitting 115 off 170 balls, after his opening partner fell for a four-ball duck. Kaushal Silva made 180 at No. 4. Kandamby arrived after Karunaratne's dismissal, with the score at 241 for 3, and put on 195 with Silva. He later shared a 226-run partnership with Upul Bandara for the seventh wicket, before eventually declaring the innings at stumps on the second day. Needing almost 800 to get the first-innings points they needed to displace SSC, Tamil Union had little to play for on the final day and were all out for 314. Kaushal Lokuarachchi was the highest wicket-taker for SSC, picking 4 for 136.
Air Force Sports Club and Burgher Recreation Club competed in what was effectively a relegation battle amid some controversy. The pitch prepared for the match was deemed unsuitable and the teams played on a different surface, which only allowed for a two-day match. The difference between the two teams was 1.7 points, with Air Force on 51.6 and Burgher on 49.9, but Air Force managed to secure first-innings points by gaining a lead of 29 runs to help seal their place in the Premier League. Opener Thuppahi Nadeera scored an unbeaten 105 in the first innings for Air Force and guided his side to 244, with little support from his teammates. Left-arm spinner Akila Isanka then took 5 for 90 as Burgher were dismissed for 215. With only two days of play possible, the match ended in a draw.
Sri Lanka Navy Sports Club defeated bottom-placed Kurunegala Youth by six wickets. Navy needed an innings victory to stay in the first-class competition and, their six-wicket victory wasn't enough to take them past Badureliya Cricket Club in the points table. Navy made 369 in the first innings, with Chanaka Ruwansiri making 122. Although they dismissed Kurunegala Youth for 212 and 182, they still had to bat in the fourth innings to chase a target of 26.
Three left-arm spinners topped the list of wicket-takers this season. Moors' Pushpakumara took 64 wickets, ahead of Panadura's Sirisoma and Colombo Cricket Club's Dinouk Hettiarachchi, who both took 58. No bowler with more than 30 wickets had a better average or strike rate than 19-year-old offspinner Tharindu Kaushal who finished with 50 wickets in spite of playing fewer matches than the table leaders due to his national commitments. Sachithra Senanayake, who led the table before he left for national duty, finished with 49 scalps.
Among the batsmen, SSC's wicketkeeper Kaushal Silva scored the most runs, hitting four hundreds and two fifties to pile up 814 runs. Former Test opener Malinda Warnapura made 804 runs while Air Force's 20-year-old batsman Yashodha Lanka made 802. The best average however, belonged to Kusal Perera who scored 695 runs at an average of 115.83 in four fewer matches than the table leaders.
The end of the season also sees six teams - three lowest-ranked teams from each group - culled from the top competition. These teams will move down to form an emerging league, which begins next year. The matches in the league will be treated as club matches. After the final round, Burgher Recreation Club, Lankan Cricket Club and Saracens Sports Club were relegated from Group A, while from Group B, Navy Sports Club, Galle Cricket Club and Kurunegala Youth Cricket Club will not play first-class cricket in 2014. The relegations are part of a three-year plan to halve the number of clubs playing in the top three-day tournament, in order to improve the quality of the first-class competition.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here