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September 15, 2008
Having kicked off two months ago, the Under-23 Youth Tournament Division 1 is nearing its close, with Sri Lanka Under-20 Schools unexpectedly making it to the semi-finals alongside defending champs Sinhalese Sports Club, Nondescripts Cricket Club and Colts Cricket Club.
The U-20 Schools side, comprising many of those who represented Sri Lanka at the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year, were introduced this year to the competition in order to ensure the players in the national U-19 squad have continued exposure to cricket.
Danesh Dissanayake, the team's joint coach, hailed the 'achievement', with the young team qualifying for the semi-finals ahead of some reputed clubs. "We had to win our final group match to qualify for the semi-finals and the boys showed that they are capable of taking up the challenge when we defeated Moors SC by 55 runs on the first innings," Dissanayake, who in charge of the team with Janak Gamage, said. "For most part of the tournament we did not have some of our key players who were sitting for their Advanced Level examinations. But the replacements have proved equally good."
Led by Ashan Priyanjan, Sri Lanka's U-19 World Cup captain, the team won against Saracens and drew eight games, obtaining first-innings points in four of those. Dissanayake said the decision to include the Schools team in the tournament was questioned after their first game, in which they conceded first-innings points to Chilaw Marians Cricket Club. "But as the tournament progressed we improved and we managed to prove them wrong by reaching the semi-finals."
Priyanjan has been the third-highest run-getter in the tournament, scoring 395 runs at 43.88 with a century and a fifty. But it has been the spin-bowling attack that has given U-20 Schools the edge over their competitors. Offspinner Sanjaya Fernando has taken 34 wickets at an average of 12.76, with a best of 14 for 47 against Saracens Sports Club, while left-arm slow bowler Sachith Pathirana has taken 29 wickets at 27.51. Along with medium-pacer Ishan Jayaratne (21 wickets), the duo have been instrumental in Under-20 School's success so far.
For Colts CC, the path to the semi-finals has been made easier by Angelo Mathews, a former Sri Lanka U-19 captain. Mathews is the only batsman to score three hundreds in the tournament. His 428 runs in five games, at an average of 107, also earned him a place in the Sri Lanka A squad to tour South Africa. He averages 107 in five matches from which he has the leading aggregate in the tournament with 428.
Meanwhile in the Under-23 division II tournament, Bloomfield, Colts and Negombo SC have qualified for the semi-finals. The fourth team will be decided at the completion of the group matches.