One drop bat Pasindu Sooriyabandara (97 n.o) and No.7 Malith Kariyawasam (78) shattered S.Thomas’ hopes of enforcing Royal to follow on with a steady 139-run partnership for the sixth wicket on day two of their 137th Battle of the Blues three-day cricket encounter continued at SSC grounds, Colombo yesterday. Dialog Axiata is the proud sponsor of the world’s second oldest cricket encounter.
Their fighting partnership enabled Royal to bat the entire day to make 280 for 7 at close, still trailing by 70 runs on the first innings with three first innings wickets in hand.
Royal, in reply to the commanding Thomian first innings total of 350 for 5 declared, were reeling at 122 for 5 when Kariyawasam joined Sooriyabandara in the post-lunch session after the Reid Avenue boys had lost four wickets, including in-form captain Geeshath Panditharatne, in the first session last morning.
Expectations of the Thomain supporters were high when Royal lost its fifth wicket after lunch, as Thiran Dhanapala was caught behind by Dilendra Gunathillake off medium paceman Hansaka Liyanaarachchi for nine runs in the 50th over. Royal, known to have a weak set of tail-enders, were in deep trouble after the loss of Dhanapala’s wicket, still needing 78 runs to avert follow on with only five wickets in hand.
But Sooriyabandara and Kariyawasam took the challenge bravely and embarked on a great mission to put Royal out of trouble. They shattered whatever the hopes S.Thomas’ had of enforcing a follow on with a fighting performance. Initially, the duo put their heads down and picked the occasional bad deliveries to score their runs. But once they had a good taste of the Thomian attack, they came on top, slowly but steadily, as S.Thomas’ captain Sachitha Jayathilake used as many as eight bowlers to break the partnership.
Kariyawasam was more aggressive of the two while Sooriyabandara played that much-needed anchor role to keep the Royal innings together. Sooriyabandara faced 167 balls to compete his half century. In contrast, Kariyawasam: needed just 87 balls to score his fifty.
After sweating for 45 overs in hot and humid conditions, the Thomian bowlers were finally able to separate the two shortly before the close when Kariyawasam was trapped leg before by Jayathileka for 78, made off 140 balls with 12 boundaries. But by then, Royal had sailed out of troubled waters as they had narrowed the gap to 87 runs with four wickets in hand.
Inspired by the exit of Kariyawasam, S.Thomas came back strongly to capture another wicket as Ganith Sandeepa departed without disturbing the scorers after facing only nine balls. But Sooriyabandara continued his good work with the willow till the end and is on the verge of completing a well-deserved century. He was unbeaten on 97, facing 281 balls and hitting 13 fours.
Earlier in the day, the Thomian bowlers tightened the grip, given by their batsmen on day one, to capture the top four wickets of the Royalists in the pre-lunch session. Resuming at their overnight total of one for no loss, Royal added 36 runs more exactly 12 overs before losing opener Naveen Withanapathirana, caught by Ravindu Kodittuwakku off Yohan Perera for 24. Jayawardene was then joined by Sooriyabandara and they brought the total up to 65 before the opener departed, caught Senal de Silva off left-arm medium peceman Danush Peiris for 25. Every time Royal batsmen attempted to build a partnership before the arrival of Kariyawasam, the Thomian bowlers struck at regular intervals. When the Reid Avenue boys appeared to be marching steadily at 96 for two, they lost the key wicket of skipper Panditharatne (26), who had aggregated over 1,000 runs this season
S.Thomas’ inflicted a double blow to Royal’s batting line up with the total on 96 in the 39th over when Perera followed the wicket of Panditharatne by removing Lasith Embuldeniya for a five-ball ‘duck’. Following the top five unhealthy partnerships of 37, 28, 31, 0, 26 runs and several anxious moments, it was Sooriyabandara-Kariyawasam alliance that enabled Royal to make a bold reply. Despite that brave effort, Royal must still be regretting for inviting S.Thomas’ to take the first lease of a perfect batting strip, as the wicket still looks good even after two days’ of play. With Royal coming closer to to the Thomian first innings total, a decision is highly unlikely on the third and final day’s play today, unless the glorious uncertainties of cricket takes place.