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A champagne exit from Lord’s

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36th Anniversary of Sri Lanka’s first ever Test match at Lord’s – Part 3

by Rohan Wijeyaratna

The story of this match will serve as a testament not only to the abilities of the 1984 Sri Lankan team, but also to the long cricketing tradition established through the commitment of many generations of past Ceylon cricketers, the country’s wonderful nurseries – the schools, the indefatigable coaches and the clubs that dot the island. All of them played an unseen hand in moulding the Sri Lankan sporting pedigree; an outpouring of which was seen on the first two days at Lord’s. Even though it appeared at the start that there would be only one winner and the game would be one-sided, by the end of day two many were of the view that the most agreeable cricket they witnessed during the entire summer was played on the first two days of this Test at Lord’s and the more deserving side was now on the ascendancy. Denis Compton when I met him at the end of day two put things in perspective. “You chaps today taught us how to bat” he said with disarming candour. There could have been no greater praise, coming from probably England’s finest post war batsman. Others of note – including Tom Graveney expressed similar sentiments. These were indeed heady days for all those who were from the Sri Lankan camp, be they players or spectators alike.

 

End of two epic innings

There was greater purpose and hurry seen in the Sri Lankan approach when play resumed on Day three. Mendis heaved at anything and everything, while Wettimuny was happy, playing away from his body and relying on his previous day’s form and eye. Something had to give, and it did. Wettimuny forcing Allott on the off from where he stood, managed to deflect a catch behind. That announced the end of an epic feat of endurance which lasted altogether, 642 minutes. It was till then, the longest innings ever in a Test match at Lord’s, and served as the cornerstone upon which the entire innings was built. Shortly thereafter, Mendis heaved at Pocock and holed out to Fowler at long-on. With each of those exits, the crowd rose, as a mark of their appreciation of two magnificently contrasting styles of play which lit up Lord’s in the two preceding days. The applause was long and sustained.

The Sri Lankan intention now appeared plain as pikestaff. De Mel being no mug with the bat, dealt some mighty blows while little Aravinda on his Test debut produced a stroke filled short burst before Mendis declared at 491 for 7. It was the highest ever score by a team playing their maiden Test in England. The closure left Sri Lanka 20 minutes of bowling before lunch.

Posterity might have been better served had the Lankans registered 500 in their very first Test outing at Lord’s, but the decision to close was not without an attacking intent. England were low in form and down in spirit, and to attack them with the new ball on either side of lunch, would give the Lankans their best chance of grabbing some early wickets. Or so they thought.

England’s first requirement was making 292 to avoid the embarrassment of a follow-on. After Fowler had escaped a near catch in the gully to the very first ball from De Mel, Vinothen John bowled a lot of tripe from the other end. It was embarrassing to watch a string of full tosses being delivered at a time when the calling was to put the batsmen under pressure. At lunch, England profiting from this unexpected windfall, were 32 for 0, after 5 overs of rapid batting. With ‘DS’ not making an appearance due to an ankle injury, bleak times portended for the Lankans.

 

Wretchedly out of form ….

Shortly after resumption, Fowler departed, slicing a catch to second slip. That heralded the most extraordinary passage of play in the match. Vinothen John had by now settled down while De Mel kept steaming in, giving all he got. But they both were far from menacing. The third seamer Ratnayake was largely innocuous, while D.S. de Silva making his appearance only after lunch, bowled his stock-in- trade top spinners nursing a sprained ankle. Against an attack so debilitated, Tavare and Broad went into near slumber. What followed was perhaps the most forgettable passage of play seen in a Lord’s Test for a long time. In 27 dreary overs between lunch and tea, England advanced by 49 runs, with Broad making 19 of them. Together with Tavare, the pair prodded and pushed with infuriating ordinariness, while making the Sri Lankan bowlers seem twice as threatening as they actually were. The batsmen were so out of touch, they allowed ample time and opportunity for a hopelessly ill tuned Sri Lankan attack to find its feet and some rhythm. Tavare having batted toothlessly for 20 overs, advanced to 12 by tea and when he finally went shortly after resumption for 14, he left behind the memory of a man who was so wretchedly out of form, he could hardly hit the ball outside the square.

 

Woodcock said it all….

Broad not to be outdone was similarly comatose. While surviving two close lbw decisions from a tireless De Mel, he was twice dropped into the bargain. Gower the new man in, was only marginally better. By close of play 29 overs after tea, the pair had added only 58 runs more to England’s teatime score. The crowd expressed their disapproval unreservedly with some heavy barracking rarely heard at Lord’s. The two sessions since lunch had produced only 107 runs against an attack that was out of fitness and out of form. England were 139 for 2 by the close, with only 105 runs coming off their last 56 overs. John Woodcock writing in the ‘Daily Telegraph’ said “No self-respecting club side would have been content with the way England batted”. And that said it all.

England had the whole of the rest day to digest all the scorn heaped upon them in all forms of the media and bar room conversations. And if one thought there would be a reformed approach to entertain the sparse crowd on Monday, they were mistaken. In fact, by the end of the 4th day, it was generally felt that those who had stayed away from the cricket had been wise; they hadn’t missed much at all.

 

Lacked imagination

When play resumed on day four Broad and Gower played as though their intention was to bat out the entire day; never mind the prevailing crowd sentiment. England made 71 in the morning session for the loss of Broad shortly before lunch. When De Mel removed Gower with the second new ball shortly after lunch and Botham soon followed, England were 218 for five; still some distance away from avoiding the follow on.

England averted that ignominy through a Lamb – Ellison partnership which realised 87 priceless runs together. Lamb grassed by the keeper when on 36, went on to complete his 4th Test hundred of the summer and when Ellison went for 41, the tireless De Mel accounted for both Downton and Allott in successive balls. With the exit of Pocock and then Lamb off the last ball of the day England were all out for 370, and were trailing Sri Lanka by 121 runs with one more day to go.

Had England the imagination or desire to give themselves the slightest sniff at a possible chance of victory, they might have rotated the strike and pushed up the run rate, allowing themselves the opportunity to declare sometime after the follow on was averted. But Gower ‘s intransigence and lack of enterprise had been a feature throughout the match. Accordingly, Sri Lanka went into the fifth day, knowing full well the game would only be one of academic interest. Allott pulling a muscle left the proceedings after only one over, while Agnew’s front foot was eternally at odds with the popping crease. This meant that Pocock had to manfully bear the brunt of the attack, along with Botham who was finally reduced to bowling off spin to men adept at playing them in their sleep. That he captured six of the seven wickets to fall may not fully reflect the merit of his performance, although initially, he found some rhythm and swing and snaked a few past the defense of some of the early batsmen. During this effort, Botham surpassed both Fred Trueman and Lance Gibbs’ Test wicket hauls and became the third in line, behind Dennis Lillee and Bob Willis in the all time highest wicket takers’ list at the time. With the 80th over bowled, Sri Lanka declared, to bring to a close a game which was meandering without purpose. It was an ending the tired Englishmen embraced with open arms and a huge sigh of relief.

 

Near twin centuries

But that ending came not before another show-piece effort from Mendis who came within a whisker of making twin centuries in his debut Test at Lord’s. Had he done so he would have joined the famous George Headley as only the second in the game’s history to do so. Mendis biffed the bowling with such gay abandon, he made 94 in 97 balls in just over two hours of batting, while reducing Botham to bowling off spin off just two paces, as the effort of a run up wasn’t worth it. Apart from Mendis, the white-helmeted Amal Silva contributed to the score with an unbeaten 102. It was his maiden first class hundred and in only his second Test match.

 

Unprecedented publicity

No one would deny Sri Lanka’s magnificent showing at Lord’s added considerably to their rising cricketing stock. In fact, no amount of Ambassadors or Politicians could have matched or done more to get their country such creditworthy mention in every single major English newspaper and every single BBC World Service news bulletin for the better part of a week. Had they a more penetrative attack and had their fielding been consistently sharper, the Lankans might have pulled off an improbable win and added to England’s woeful record of losing every single Test match that summer. Though drawn, England were at the receiving end for most of the match and deserved the sobriquet of possibly, the weakest Test team among the seven Test playing nations at the time. While it was an unforgettable Test match for the Sri Lankans, for England the experience was a bolt out of the blue and brought down the curtain on a most forgettable summer.



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Sri Lanka’s contingent prior to the opening ceremony

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by Reemus Fernando 

When Sri Lanka’s Olympic contingent were entering the stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo yesterday, Nimali Liyanarachchi who could have easily become the country’s flag bearer was taking a seat in the business class for the first time in a long career to take wing from Colombo to Tokyo. On the same flight, Sujith Abeysekara who identified the talent at a very young age and helped her blossom into one of the country’s most successful middle distance runners was seated in the economy class.

It was not long ago that Nimali and fellow track and field athletes slept on the floor during transit on their way to the last pre Olympic competition. The country’s sports authorities have decided to provide five star facilities to Olympic bound athletes and that paved the way for NImali to travel in business class for the first time.

A winner of multiple disciplines at National Level, NImali has represented the country at numerous international competitions. No other athlete in the Sri Lankan contingent in Tokyo has excelled at regional events like the athlete from Sooriyawewa. A gold medalist at the Asian Athletics Championships and South Asian Games, the 32-year-old received a wildcard to the Olympics after Nilani Ratnayake, who was in contention for qualification slid in the world rankings. Before the lack of competitions pulled her down in world rankings Nimali was one of the top three Asians in her discipline.  Though Nimali is a wildcard entrant at the Olympics her fellow track and field athlete at the Olympics, Yupun Abeykoon is not. Abeykoon qualified through world rankings and could be the only athlete who could go beyond the first round. Abeykoon, South Asia’s fastest man and badminton player Niluka Karunaratne are probably the only Sri Lankan athletes who are competition ready as Nimali’s preparation too was hampered due to quarantine procedures following their return from India’s Interstate Championship.

Athletics fraternity was curious yesterday as to why the honour of carrying the country’s flag had not been give to track and field athletes. At the time this story was filed, rooky gymnast Milka Gehani and judoka Chamara Nuwan Dharmawardena were scheduled to carry the flag at the Opening Ceremony.

Nearly one third of the countries that took part in the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had handed their country’s flag to track and field athletes. Some of them were legends of the sport. Many time Olympic medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was scheduled to carry the flag of Jamaica at the time this edition went to press. For the first time countries could be represented by two flag bearers at the Olympic Games. Sri Lanka, a country that has won its only Olympic medals in track and field had a gymnast and judoka doing the duty.

Twenty years after Sri Lanka won its last Olympic medal has athletics lost its place as the premier Olympic sport of the country or has other sports come to prominence surpassing track and field as prospective medal winning Olympic sports? It is the first time a gymnast is representing Sri Lanka. She was ranked 114th at the 2019 World Championships but according to NOC, she has received a continental quota spot due to cancellation of the Asian Gymnastic Championship.

Now take a look at Sri Lanka’s track and field athletes. Forget about the two track and field athletes in Tokyo. There are more than half a dozen track and field athletes who were among the top 100 athletes in the world in their respective disciplines including one who produced the 15th best performance of the world this year. They could not improve their rankings due to lack of opportunities to take part in top ranked Championships.

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Sri Lanka on course for consolation win 

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Avishka Fernando anchored the Sri Lankan innings after the hosts were set a target of 227 to win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday.

 

By Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka looked on course for a consolation win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday as they reached 92 for one at the end of 15 overs chasing a target of 227.  Avishka Fernando gave the hosts a solid start in the dead rubber and was unbeaten on 46 when this edition went to print.

Fernando played some exciting strokes and his pulled six off Navdeep Saini was the shot of the day. It reminded of the power hitting of another Moratuwaite – L.R.D. Mendis.

Bhanuka Rajapaksa was unbeaten on 28.

Spinner Praveen Jayawickrama and Akila Dananjaya came up with outstanding performances picking six wickets between them as India were bowled out for 225 after being 157 for three at one stage. 

Sri Lanka did three changes to the side that lost the second ODI while India came in with six changes handing debuts for five players, virtually playing a third string team.

Sri Lanka’s fielding that was a huge let down during the previous game showed some improvement as they backed up the bowlers to reduce India to 225 in 43.1 overs. 

Dananjaya started off poorly conceding three boundaries in his first three balls on his return to limited overs cricket and exhausted a review too in his very first over. Sri Lanka had indicated that they were going to consider the off-spinner only for T-20 cricket but were forced to bring him back following injury to Wanindu Hasaranga.

Jayawickrama, who had claimed 11 wickets on his Test debut against Bangladesh in May, bowled superbly as he claimed the wickets of three middle order batsmen in his second ODI. With the left-arm spinner striking at regular intervals, India never got any momentum in their innings.

Dananjaya dismissed Suryakumar Yadav when he trapped him leg before wicket and claimed two more wickets towards the tail end of the Indian innings.

Skipper Dasun Shanaka, who had got his act woefully wrong in the previous game, had things very much under control yesterday with some clever bowling changes. He himself sent down eight overs and claimed the key wicket of Prithvi Shaw for 49.

Rain had stopped play for 100 minutes during the Indian innings and the game was reduced to 47 overs.

A win is crucial for Sri Lanka as they would gain ten points in the ICC World Cup Super League.

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Meet Harijan, the 400 metres hurdler at Sydney Olympics  

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Waiting for the next Olympic hurdler – Part VIII 

by Reemus Fernando  

The last Sri Lankan man to run 400 metres hurdles at an Olympics is Harijan Ratnayake. That was 21 years ago. He will be in Tokyo next month. Ratnayake who holds the national record of the discipline will not be running hurdles there. Instead he is accompanying his charge Kumudu Priyanga for the Paralympics. Asian Para Games medallist Priyanga is not a hurdler. She will compete in the 100 metres and the long jump in the T47 category.  

“I do not have hurdlers training under me,” says Harijan who alongside Asian medallist Asoka Jayasundara are the only men to know how it feels like to have run the event under 50 seconds.  

Rajitha Niranjan Rajakaruna who won the bronze medal in the 400 metres flat event at the last National Championship is trained by Harijan. He clocked 47.21 seconds at the nationals. According to Harijan athletes willing to take up the 400 metres hurdles and ready to work hard are in short supply. “When Rajakaruna came to me he was running 400 metres in 57 seconds or somewhere around that. To become a 400 metres hurdler you have to be a good 400 metres sprinter as well. When the base is prepared he could be trained for 400 metres hurdles.” 

“I see many future prospects. But I can train only if they come to me,” says Harijan who earmarks Asian Junior Championship (2018) medallist Pasindu Kodikara as one.  

Harijan too was not a hurdler initially. He reached the pinnacle of his athletics career, established records and went on to represent Sri Lanka at Sydney Olympics when he trained under S.M.G. Banda, who was among the best in the business then. Harijan was introduced to Banda by incumbent president of Sri Lanka Athletics Palitha Fernando, who had been in the athletics administration since 1979. Things have change dramatically within the last two decades as athletes have continued to remain with their school coaches even after reaching senior level.   

After Duncan White won silver in the 400 metres hurdles in 1948 Olympics it took Sri Lanka more than five decades to qualify an athlete for the 400 metres hurdles. A clue to the question why had it taken so many years to unearth someone like Ratnayake might lie in a stack of books in an iron cupboard in the department of sports at the Ministry of Education. The event results of all athletics disciplines of the All Island Schools Games are carefully stored according to their year in a steel cupboard at Isurupaya. Our search for the 400 metres hurdles results of all Schools Games found that the event had been only introduced in early 90s. According to Sri Lanka Athletics statistician the Public Schools meet which was the forerunner to the All Island Schools Games had only the 300 metres hurdles.  

Had Ratnayake competed in 400 metres hurdles in his last year, the All Island Schools Games results of mid 90s should have had his performances. The name Ratnayake is not there in the final of any meet in that period. However in one particular meet heats performances shows an athlete from Dharmadutha Vidyalaya, Badulla being placed third in a heat. “When the championship was held in Anuradhapura I went to see the ruins after the heats. I did not even see the final.”   

However it took only five years for him to be Sri Lanka’s number one hurdler and win medals at Asian level and represent Sri Lanka at Olympics. The right athlete training under the right coach can bring the best out of both.

 

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