Chilaw Marians take pole position
After eight weeks at the top of Tier A in the Premier League, Nondescripts CC finally conceded the lead to Chilaw Marians CC as the competition thickened leading towards the final two weekends of cricket.
Right through the season, Chilaw Marians had threatened to take over the leadership of the league and they achieved it with their third win, equalling NCC's record. Following a rain-hit draw against NCC, Chilaw Marians went onto record two consecutive wins which pushed them to the top of the table. The architect of those wins against Tamil Union (by seven wickets) and last week over Bloomfield (by 16 runs) was former Sri Lanka left-arm spinner Dinuka Hettiarachchi. In two consecutive weeks, Hettiarachchi captured match hauls of ten wickets or more and was instrumental in Chilaw Marians' outstanding progress towards a maiden title win.
Hettiarachchi first destroyed the Tamil Union batting by taking 10 for 123 and then followed it up with a better performance against Bloomfield, ending with figures of 13 for 138. The Bloomfield game, played at Katunayake, was notable for two outstanding bowling performances from two spinners: Hettiarachchi and Bloomfield's offspinner Suraj Randiv. Although he finished on the losing side, Randiv opened the bowling in both innings took 8 for 50 and 5 for 69 to register the best match figures for the season. The performance also took him to one wicket shy of becoming the first bowler to take 50 wickets in the season.
Meanwhile, Colombo Colts moved into fourth position behind NCC and Bloomfield, after trouncing Colombo CC by 235 runs. Colombo CC, without a win this season, are in danger of being relegated to Tier B next season unless they can raise themselves from the bottom of the table during the final two weekends. Centuries from Ishan Muthaliph and the experienced Jeevantha Kulatunga helped Colts set CCC a stiff target of 376 after a disappointing first-innings total of 182. CCC, led by former Sri Lanka batsman Jehan Mubarak, were nowhere close to achieving that target and were bowled out for 169 by the left-arm spin of Sajeewa Weerakoon, who finished with ten wickets in the match.
Following their shock six-wicket loss to Army SC the previous weekend, Ragama CC recovered to take first-innings point off Sinhalese SC in their drawn match at Maitland Place. A maiden first-class hundred from left-hand batsman Nizam Mazahir, who shared a fourth-wicket stand of 182 with Lahiru Thirimanne (81), steered Ragama past SSC's first-innings total of 283.
Badureliya CC also kept alive their chances of pushing towards a maiden Premier League triumph by snatching first-innings points in their drawn match against Army at Panagoda. Saracens, one of the most improved teams in the competitions after gaining promotion to Tier A this season, secured their second win by beating Moors SC by six wickets. Spinner Dilshan Wimaladharma's ten wickets proved the difference between the two sides.
Cricketer of the Week - Dinuka Hettiarachchi
Dinuka Hettiarachchi is unfortunate that he is a left-arm spinner in the same mould as Rangana Herath and that their careers ran parallel to each other. While Herath, with his extra variety, received the nod for national recognition and is now a part of the Sri Lanka Test bowling line up, Hettiarachchi's appearances for his country were restricted to just one Test match against England in 2001.
After that one off Test, Hettiarachchi next opportunity was in 2004-05, when he was selected to tour New Zealand with the Sri Lanka A team. He performed exceptionally, capturing 20 wickets in three matches, but that was as far as selection to any national side went, for after that tour the selectors cold shouldered him. That did not discourage Hettiarachchi from playing domestic cricket where he has been a consistent wicket-taker for Colombo Colts, Singhalese SC and presently Chilaw Marians, whom he has represented for the last five years.
His successive match hauls of 10 and 13 wickets brought him closer to fifty wickets for the season. He has 46 from 9 matches. "I don't think it has been only my bowling performances that has brought us to the top of the Premier League, it is a team effort," said 33-year-old Hettiarachchi. "Apart from me and Gayan Wijekoon, we have a very young side and there is a lot of unity."
Hettiarachchi is confident that Chilaw Marians can win the title this season, having finished runner-up in the Premier limited-over competition. "As things stand we require only first-innings points from our last two matches against Badureliya CC and Moors SC to win the title for the first time. We deserve it because we beat SSC on the first innings after 14 years and we have beaten top sides like Tamil Union and Bloomfield," said Hettiarachchi, who is a full-time cricketer, playing six months in Sri Lanka and the other six in the Northern Premier League in England.