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The seventh-round matches in the Premier League tournament had to be staggered due to the inter-school cricket season being at its height, with matches between longstanding rivals, including the traditional "Big Match", between Royal College and St Thomas' College, currently taking place.
These school matches, which are played towards the weekend, are historical and see turnouts nearing 10,000 at certain venues. They are played at international venues like the P Sara Oval, SSC, R Premadasa Stadium, Galle Stadium and Asgiriya Stadium. As a result they affected the scheduling of the Premier League matches, some of which were played early during the week and some after the weekend. The Lankan CC v Tamil Union game began on February 27, SSC v Bloomfield on February 28, Colombo Colts v Chilaw Marians on March 1, NCC v Moors on March 2 and Ragama v Badureliya on March 4.
Following three poor games Ragama CC have started to move again. Their 145-run win over Badureliya SC at the Surrey Village Ground was solely due to fine all-round efforts by two former Sri Lanka cricketers, Kaushalya Weeraratne and Indika de Saram. Weeraratne, who represented his country in 15 ODIs, played a captain's knock when he thumped a magnificent 97 off 67 balls, including five sixes, to lift his team from 143 for 5 to 320. Then he returned to destroy the Badureliya batting with an opening burst of three wickets, which had the opposition reeling at 7 for 3.
Badureliya somewhat recovered from that shock to post a respectable total of 229, but conceding a first-innings lead of 91 left them chasing a target of 384 in the fourth innings. The challenge proved beyond their means and they were dismissed for 238. de Saram, the 38-year-old hard-hitting allrounder who represented his country in four Tests and 15 ODIs, picked up six wickets in the match with his offbreaks to go with batting contributions of 70 and 43. The win, their second of the season, propelled Ragama CC to fourth position in the Premier League Tier A standings.
Tamil Union suffered a setback to their title aspirations when they conceded vital first-innings points to Lankan CC at the P Sara Oval. The result was brought about by two young batsmen who shone for Lankan CC. Twenty-one-year-old left-hander Ashen Silva scored his third hundred of the season, a well-paced 157 off 321 balls, and 22-year-old Shameera Weerasinghe scored his maiden first-class century (121 not out off 221 balls) to steer Lankan CC to a formidable first-innings total of 465 for 9 declared. The reputed Tamil Union batting fumbled against the pace of Vimukthi Perera and Saliya Saman, and the left-arm spin of Gayan Sirisoma, to be bundled out for a disappointing 229. Although Tamil Union hit back strongly in the second innings through skipper Sachitra Serasinghe and Chatura Randunu (who shared all ten wickets) and bowled out Lankan CC for 165 they couldn't make much headway beyond that.
Table-toppers Colombo Colts CC showed that they were made of champion stuff when they bounced back from a first-innings deficit of 69 runs to beat Chilaw Marians by 43 runs at Havelock Park. Colts recovered from 80 for 8 to reach 175 in the first innings, through contributions from the tail. Their batting was rattled by the pace of Sri Lanka fast bowler Shaminda Eranga and the offspin of Janaka Gunaratne. The two shared eight wickets between them. Despite a fighting century from Milinda Siriwardene, Chilaw Marians gained only a lead of 72 in the first innings.
Colts' batsmen were once again uncomfortable against the spin of Malinda Pushpakumara and Gunaratne, and folded for a timid 223, leaving Chilaw Marians the formality of scoring 152 for victory. But Sri Lanka ODI cricketer Dilruwan Perera had other ideas. Opening the bowling on a pitch responding to spin, he picked up six wickets for 39 off 12.4 overs to shoot out Chilaw Marians for 108 and earn Colts an unlikely victory, their fourth of the season, which consolidated their position at the top of the table.
Sinhalese SC kept pace with the table leaders by grabbing first-innings points in their drawn match against defending champs Bloomfield at the SSC . A maiden first-class double-century (216) by Sri Lanka batsman Chamara Silva, who shared a fifth-wicket stand of 193 with his captain Chintaka Jayasinghe (92), helped Bloomfield to a total of 480. SSC took up the challenge and replied with 493 for 4, with Sri Lanka Test opener Tharanga Paranavitana warming up the for the two-Test series against England, starting later this month, with a solid 223. Paranavitana and his opening partner Dimuth Karunaratne (64) gave SSC the start they needed to chase down Bloomfield's tall total by putting on 150. Paranavitana also added 123 for the second wicket and 121 for the third as SSC made full use of a flat track where only one innings was played by each team.
Nondescripts CC lifted themselves from the bottom of the table by taking first-innings points off Moors SC in a drawn match played at Moors Sports Club. NCC looked like they were headed for another defeat when they were dismissed for 180 by the Moors pace duo of Kasun Madushanka and Himesh Silva, who shared eight wickets between them. But an early breakthrough provided by Sri Lanka left-arm fast bowler Thilan Thushara helped NCC to put pressure on the rest of the Moors batting, which folded tamely to the spin of Sohan Boralessa and Jehan Mubarak for 134.
NCC nearly threw away the advantage when they lost three second-innings wickets for 36, but Mubarak, the former Sri Lanka batsman, and the talented Angelo Perera stemmed the collapse with a 242-run partnership for the fourth wicket that enabled NCC to set Moors a target of 332. Both batsmen made centuries. Despite an attractive knock of 154 not out off 216 balls by 21-year-old Isham Ghouse, his maiden first-class hundred, Moors ended the game 33 runs short with two wickets standing.
NCC coach Hemantha said the main reasons NCC are struggling are players leaving the club when they don't find a place in the squad and the failure to put up good first-innings totals. "The kind of pitches we prepare at NCC there is not much chance of winning a match outright," Devapriya said. "Most of the matches are decided on first-innings points and in this area we have been lacking. Our batsmen have been able to score runs only in the second innings, which is not helping us."
He also mentioned that five NCC players were on national duty in Australia - Kumar Sangakkara, Upul Tharanga, Farveez Maharoof, Dinesh Chandimal and Chamara Kapugedera - and that also had an adverse effect on team performances. Kapugedera had to fly off midway during their match against Moors when he was called up for the CB series finals as a replacement for the injured Thisara Perera. NCC also lost the services of their captain Kosala Kulasekara for the rest of the season when he broke a finger attempting a return catch. Mubarak will take over the captaincy for the remaining matches.
"I am confident that if we can obtain first-innings points from one of our remaining two matches (against Ragama CC and SSC) we can avoid relegation," Devapriya said.
Sri Lanka Army SC's legspinner Seekkuge Prasanna was rewarded for his exceptional bowling performances during the season with a place in the Sri Lanka squad for the Asia Cup in Bangladesh later this month. Prasanna, the leading wicket-taker of the season with 50 wickets from five matches, has been the mainstay for Army, who continue to head the Premier League Tier B standings.
Last week Army made short work of Saracens trouncing them by an innings at the Army Ground in Panagoda to record their fifth win of the season, making them favourites to win the title. Prasanna and medium-pacer Nuwan Liyanapathirana took match bags of nine wickets apiece as Saracens was bowled out for totals of 114 and 90.
Second-placed Sri Lanka Navy lost ground when they were suffered a shock seven-wicket defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka Ports Authority CC at the Navy Ground in Welisara. Navy's batting was dismantled by the left-arm orthodox spin of Shanuka Dissanayake who finished with 12 wickets in the match including a career-best 6 for 59 in the second innings.
Burgher RC moved to third spot when they beat Kurunegala Youth CC by three wickets in a thrilling finish at Havelock Park. Chasing 220 for victory BRC were seen home by Vindika Chandrasiri who hit a career-best 93 after they had been in a spot of bother at 83 for 3. Kurunegala stalwart Ajith Ekanayake showed that he still had fire in his left-arm cutters even at the age of 46 by taking a match-haul of nine wickets.
Colombo CC lifted themselves from the bottom of the table by securing their second win of the season, beating Police SC by an innings at the Colombo Cricket Ground. The foundation for their win was laid by their fourth-wicket pair of Rasika Priyadarshana and Upul Fernando, who both hit centuries.