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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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Sports

Not playing cricket extremely frustrating – Arthur

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by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka’s Head Coach Mickey Arthur has spent almost a year in the job, yet his team has played just one game in Colombo in that period. Such has been the devastating effect of the pandemic that he might end his two year stint with Sri Lanka Cricket without ever being involved in a game at RPS.

This was supposed to be a bumper year for cricket in Sri Lanka with the country set to host four bilateral series plus the Asia Cup. Arthur had drawn up his plans in a bid to bring the team back to the glory days but those plans have been halted due to COVID-19. There was lot of hope that cricket will resume later this month with Bangladesh set to travel for a three match Test series but that has been put off due to quarantine disputes.

“It has been extremely frustrating for me as I am watching live cricket in England, UAE and other parts of the world but we are not playing any cricket,” Arthur told The Island. Sri Lanka have not played any international cricket since February.

“We were all excited about this year. It was a tough year no doubt with some challenging assignments but we were excited about the challenges. The players were shaping up well and the West Indies series we could see a real improvements in many areas. We wanted to build on that and we were heading in the right direction with the Test and ODI teams. We have to do lot of work with the T-20 team but we had our plans in place. We were getting better always.”

“I must tell you that the board has done everything to ensure that our training has been top notch. There has been lot of effort put in by our officials to resume cricket. I want to complement every player in our squad. They have been committed to training and they have brought incredible attitude for training. Great to see they get better technically, physically and mentally. That is why it has been frustrating not to have any cricket. They are ready and I have not seen an international team like this so ready to take on the challenge.”

For the last six months Arthur has been confined to his hotel room. He has not had an opportunity to visit his family. “My family is grown up. They lead their own life. My eldest daughter lives in South Africa. My other two daughters are in Perth. My eldest has given birth to a child so I am a grandfather now. I thought it’s my responsibility to remain in Sri Lanka and work with the boys. So, Grant Flower and I stayed back. I felt the need to give the leadership for boys’ training sessions. They have been quite amazing.”

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Sports Festivals: Double standards at play

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by Reemus Fernando

Teen athletes competed in their numbers at Divisional and Inter Divisional Athletics Championships of the National Sports Festival held around the country during the last few weekends. If not for the schools athletes the competition venues of the regional championships of the National Sports Festival would have looked lifeless. Yet, it is doubtful when these athletes will be able to compete for their schools as the Ministry of Education is yet to soften its stance on conducting schools competitions due to the Covid 19 pandemic.

The Divisional and Inter Divisional Athletics Championships of the National Sports Festival and the upcoming Youth Championships will help a small segment of young athletes and their coaches figure out where they stand after a long layoff without competitions. But for a vast majority of school athletes who do not compete in these championships nothing would be more important than the Inter School Competitions and the All Island Schools Competitions, which still remain banned.

Last week, one School Sports Association, which was looking forward to ending months of inaction, in November, received a directive from the Ministry of Education to limit their competitions to friendly practice matches. The letter issued by the Ministry of Education included number of regulations which further discourage competitions.

Undoubtedly, serious precautions should be taken in the face of the present pandemic. Student athletes’ health should not be put to risk. But aren’t they currently being exposed to the virus more at packed private tuition classes, overcrowded buses and trains and even in their own class rooms in schools.

If taking part in competitions is a risk to their health, shouldn’t the school athletes be stopped from competing at the Divisional and Inter Divisional Athletics Championships of the National Sports Festival conducted by the Sports Ministry. Certainly the Ministry of Education cannot stop teen athletes from representing clubs during weekends at the above said competitions. If what is more important is the health of young athletes, then what is considered good for them by one Sports Ministry should not be deemed harmful by the Ministry of Education.

There are some health measures like measuring temperature at some of the above-said competitions, where The Island was present. Why can’t the Ministry of Education conduct competitions adhering to health guidelines?

Schools sports suffered setbacks even before the Covid 19 pandemic hit Sri Lanka. A better part of the preceding year was characterised by uncertainty caused by the Easter Sunday bomb attacks.

Even when normalcy prevails a vast majority of country’s schools do not conduct even a sports meet annually. Sports is probably the last on the priority list of the Ministry of Education. Physical health is the key to survival during a pandemic. Ironically, physical education is neglected badly in schools in these times of ‘new normal’. Even at leading schools, both private and public, the outsourced Sports Instructors were the first to lose jobs in the education sector during the lockdown. Both public and private schools may have saved some funds by cutting on salaries but they have certainly opened new avenues for disaster. Once, Olympian turned sprint coach Sunil Gunawardena told in an interview with this newspaper that he would have become a rogue or a rebellion had he not taken to sports.

The schools have been the nurseries of country’s sports. From the two Olympic medalists the country has ever produced to the world cup winning cricketers who have become famous world over, the seeds of sporting success has been sown at schools. Hundreds of thousands of others who took part in sports enthusiastically at school level would vouch for the invaluable lessons they learnt outside the classroom and how much sports helped build their character.

The Ministry of Education has taken serious note of the number of learning hours the students have lost due to the pandemic. Private tuition masters in packed halls are going hell for leather to finish the syllabuses in time of the all important O/L, A/L and Grade five Scholarship exams. The Covid 19 pandemic has come as a blessing in disguise to the sports authorities of the Ministry of Education. Repercussions from a year without sports at schools or how to compensate for the time lost in sports seems to be things they hardly worry about. Results of exams come within months and if you fail you certainly can try again. Country’s prisons are overflowing. We can only hope that what Gunawardena said about himself wouldn’t come true as regards the thousands of young men and women giving up sports this year.

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Tamil Union looks to an exciting season

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Head Coach Kalpage and Consultant Herath to turn tables for Tamil Union

With former international cricketer Ruwan Kalpage appointed as the Coach, Tamil Union is planning to field a strong team for the cricket season under the direction of a new committee.

Kalpage brings over 15 years of international and national coaching experience to his new role.

Tamil Union has appointed former test captain, Rangana Herath as their Cricket Consultant ; recognized as the most successful left arm spinner all time, Herath has taken 433 test wickets in his career. He is expected to add a new sense of dynamism to the Tamil Union side for this season. The Tamil Union team is captained by national cricketer Suranga Lakmal, former test captain who has played in 60 test matches to date.

The Tamil Union Cricket Committee is headed by former SLC Secretary and first class cricketer, business leader Prakash Schaffter and assisted by Cricket Secretary former Josephian and SL U-19 first class cricketer Charinda Fernando.

As the cricket season gets underway, Tamil Union Cricket & Athletic Club is looking forward to consolidating its presence, says Prakash Schaffter, Head of the Cricket Committee at Tamil Union.

Head of the committee, Prakash Schaffter brings the experience of a long association with cricket ; he was Secretary – Sri Lanka Cricket in 2011 and 2015 and will be able to combine his business acumen and leadership skills in spearheading Tamil Union’s thrust into the season this year.

Long standing member and current President Ramesh Schaffter says “Tamil Union has a unique legacy of supporting national cricket in Sri Lanka. During its historic innings spanning over 120 years, Tamil Union has been very consistent in producing world class cricketers who have excelled in the national team. We have always been a place of growth, fostering talented cricketers from rural Sri Lanka. Among them are national cricketers the caliber of Mutthaiah Muralidharan, Champaka Ramanayake, Athula Samarasekara,Upul Sumathipala, Upul Chandana and Suranga Lakmal.”

The Tamil Union team is confident of facing the season with optimism. Representing them is a world class team headed and inspired by some of the best cricketing talent produced by Sri Lanka.

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