By Nuwangi Gunawardena
Sri Lanka U19’s Tour of England kicked off with the 1st Youth Test at Chelmsford on the 21st of August. The four-day match would mark the first series for the Sri Lankan U19’s since former national cricketer Jehan Mubarak took over as the head coach in March 2022.
The match commenced with English skipper Ben McKinney winning the toss and electing to bat. McKinney and Harry Singh got England off to a flying start with an opening partnership of 55 in just 11 overs before the skipper was caught out by Wanuja Sahan off of Dulaj Samuditha. Harry Singh soon followed his captain back to the pavilion, leaving England faltering at 64/2 before Ross Whitfield and George Bell’s brilliant 185-run partnership steadied the ship for the hosts. Bell’s swashbuckling century of 107 runs off of just 96 balls, Whitfield’s 86 (107) and a late cameo from Ben Foreman (58 off 56) led England to a respectable first innings total of 387. Duvindu Ranatunga (of Mahanama College) was the pick of the Sri Lankan bowlers with a four-wicket haul.
Sri Lanka got off to a rather slow start in reply, losing wickets at regular intervals before Asitha Wanninayake (St. Anthony’s College Kandy) and Ranuda Somarathne (Trinity College Kandy) put up 137 run partnership. Wanninayake’s century (132 off 315) along with half-centuries from Somarathne (65 off 114) and skipper Nalandian Raveen de Silva (62 off 135) propelled Sri Lanka to an innings total of 407 with a lead of just 20 runs over the hosts.
England started off well in their second innings, albeit losing opener Harry Singh for just 2 runs. Ben McKinney and Ross Whitfield put up a 149 run partnership before Wanuja Sahan (St. Peter’s College) picked up the skipper’s wicket. Following the loss of McKinney, barring a 46-run partnership by George Bell and Ross Whitfield, there seemed to be hardly any hope left for England’s second innings as the Sri Lankan bowlers led by Wanuja Sahan (4/89) and Duvindu Ranatunga (3/34) ripped through the host’s batting line-up. Ross Whitfield was the sole light for England, adding a sensibly played century (110 off 134) to his first innings half-century. England ended their second innings with a total of 292, leaving the visitors chasing a target of 273 runs.
Sri Lanka’s final lease at the wicket got off to a rocky start with the visitors losing wickets in rapid succession leaving them at 98 for 5. However, an 89 partnership by Ranuda Somarathne and Lahiru Dawatage (St. Peter’s College) carried Sri Lanka to 187 runs, and kept the visitor’s hopes alive. Unfortunately, Dawatage wouldn’t survive to see the match to its end, as he was out for LBW off the bowling of Dominic Kelly just one run short of his half-century. He was followed to the pavilion a short while later by Vinuja Ranpul leaving Somarathne at the crease with Wanuja Sahan.
Defending 44 runs and only three wickets remaining for the visitors, England was within the grasp of victory, before Ranuda Somaratne (120 not out), Wanuja Sahan (23 not out), put up a 47 run partnership for the 08th wicket to carry Sri Lanka U19 to a 03 wickets win with 11 balls to spare. This is only the second occasion in which Sri Lanka U19 has triumphed over England U19, the first being under the captaincy of Avishka Fernando with Roy Dias as head coach. With a victory in hand and leading the series 1-0, the Sri Lankans will now march on to the second and final Youth Test at Derby high on confidence and looking to seal the series in their favour.