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A Historic Flight Revisited!



George Steuarts hierarchy  S. Skandakumar, Bernard Wijetunga, R. Muralidharan and Cricket Board Secretary Anura Tennekoon address a media briefing organized to promote another event ahead of the 1996 World Cup.

by S. Skandakumar 

The semi-final was over around 10 pm at Eden Gardens in Calcutta. Unruly crowd behaviour by shocked fans, when all was lost for India , ended in the Match Referee Clive Lloyd awarding the game to Sri Lanka on that Tuesday night,   the 14th of March 1996. I managed to get through to Cricket Board’s President Ana Punchihewa in the players dressing room, to convey congratulations and retired to bed truly happy! 

We had qualified to play Australia in the Wills World Cup final, in Lahore on Friday the 17th. Shortly after midnight, I heard a knock on my front door. Bernard Wijetunge and Channa Wijemanne, two of the Directors of our Travel subsidiary had woken me up for a reason. “Boss, we must do a charter for the Final.” 

I wiped my eyes to make sure I was not dreaming! 

“Let’s call G.T Jeyaseelan,” who was Head of Commercial for Air Lanka then. Thankfully he took my call at 1am. I put it to him. His response was positive. “Let’s meet at my Office at 9.”  

The meeting was a success. A turn around charter leaving on Friday was confirmed. That left us with just a day and a half to secure the visas for those interested while UL [Air Lanka] sorted our landing rights.  The public response to the opportunity was overwhelming and the Pakistan Embassy bent over backwards to issue the requisite visas in record time! I suspect that our beating India to make the final added to their enthusiasm! 

Much as I would have liked some members of our staff to make the trip for the amazing  work put in to make the flight a reality, the demand was so heavy that we decided to make way for the public and the clients of another travel Agent  Ceylon Carriers. 

For the return flight nearly 20 of our passengers were off loaded with generous incentives, to accommodate the winning team and officials who in the elixir of a phenomenal achievement went from the ground to their hotel and direct to the parked plane. 

Captain Sunil Wettimuny, the elder brother of Sidath Wettimuny, flew the Sri Lankan team back home after their World Cup win in Lahore. Sunil played in the 1975 and 1979 World Cups and in fact scored Sri Lanka’s first ever half-century in an international encounter – against Australia at The Oval.  

Sunil Wettimuny as Captain in charge of the flight generously opened the bar . The traditional bailas  soon took sway as the merrymaking  moved to the back of the plane . Inevitably the plane began to tilt and Sunil had to appeal to the frolicking passengers to return to their seats to restore balance ! 

For the team it was a heroes’ welcome home, with the players knowing that these were memories that would last forever! 

For the Sri Lankan Cricket fans both at home and the world over, there was unprecedented joy bordering on magical! 

For George Steuarts the flight was another page in our rich history. 

Sadly, the sheer brilliance of our on field performance was not matched by what took place at Maitland Place two weeks later! 

Ana Punchihewa the proud incumbent President was inexplicably dethroned by an ungrateful membership at the AGM that followed. Yes a President who had the vision to bring in a foreign coach in Dav Whatmore and appreciating the value of physical fitness, an outstanding physio in Alex Knontouri  that made a difference was unceremoniously voted out ! 

In his own words He had this to say. “Two weeks exactly after we won the World Cup, I was voted out at the AGM. Initially I was very distressed but slowly managed to get over it by reflecting on it philosophically ” 

The fact that barely three years later Her Excellency President Kumaratunga had to sack the entire Board to appoint the first ever Interim Committee in June 1999 to run the affairs of the Cricket Board told its own story of the shocking decline that ensued in that area. 

Twenty one years later a period that has seen no less than seven Interim Committees appointed for the same reasons, a long overdue reform to the Constitution is still awaited while our on field performances plunge to possibly their lowest! 

Yes the climb to the top was a hugely challenging one.  

The bottom is only a slide away!

Sports Editor’s note: This writer was one of our finest cricket captains in First Class cricket. He went onto become the Chairman of George Steuarts, the oldest mercantile firm in the country. He was also a former Secretary of the Cricket Board and more recently served as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia.


Under 19 Division III cricket tournament to be concluded after schools reopen



The knockout stage matches of the Under-19 Division III cricket tournament will be played only after the schools reopen, the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) said.

The SLSCA managed to conclude the Under-19 Division I and II tournaments before the third wave of the Covid 19 pandemic forced cancellation of all public events. But the Division III tournament largely consisting of outstation and up and coming schools was stranded at the quarter-final stage as the schools were closed due to the third wave of Covid 19.

The Sri Lanka Cricket conducted Under-19 Inter Provincial Tournament too was postponed due to the third wave of the pandemic.

Nishantha Kumara, the Under-19 tournament secretary of the SLSCA said that the Division III Level one and two tournaments will be concluded after schools reopen.

He said that there were no health issues emanating from the concluded phase of the tournament as the matches were conducted according to guidelines stipulated by health authorities.

“We were able to conclude the Division I and II tournaments successfully as all schools, players and parents of players and match officials cooperated well to conduct the tournament according to guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education,” said Nishantha.

“We will try our best to conclude the Division III tournament in a similar manner after normalcy returns,” said Nishantha.

Meanwhile player registrations for the Under-15 and 17 tournaments is now on. The SLSCA has introduced an online registration method for the schools to register their players for various age category tournaments.

“We invited officials from schools to introduce the system before hand and now those officials nominated by the respective schools are conducting the registrations online successfully. We are requesting all schools to conclude the registration process. So that we can commence tournaments when the authorities grant permission,” an official of the SLSCA said.

The SLSCA conducted the Under-19 tournament as a curtailed limited overs tournament after the Ministry of Education granted permission to hold events within a short period of time from March to April. Generally the Under-19 tournament commences in September and concludes in April with matches of two innings format (of two-days of duration) being played in a league tournament.

Schools cricket tournaments remained suspended for a year from March 2020 due to the pandemic. (RF)

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Karunaratne closes in on top 10 of ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings



Dimuth Karunaratne has closed in on a top-10 spot in the ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings after a successful second Test against Bangladesh in Kandy which Sri Lanka won by 209 runs to clinch the two-match series 1-0.

The opening batsman struck 118 and 66, moving up four slots to 11th position in the list led by New Zealand captain Kane Williamson. Karunaratne’s career-best ranking is sixth, attained in August 2019. He is the top-ranked Test batsman from Sri Lanka with Angelo Mathews next in the list in 24th position.

Niroshan Dickwella (up four places to 31st), Oshada Fernando (up 10 places to 58th) and Lahiru Thirimanne (up 13 places to 60th) are the other Sri Lanka batsmen to advance while left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama’s player of the match haul of 11 for 178, the best figures by a Sri Lankan on Test debut, sees him enter the rankings in 48th position.

Bangladesh opener Tamim Iqbal’s knocks of 92 and 24 have helped him gain three places to reach 27th position while Mushfiqur Rahim and captain Mominul Haque have inched up a slot each to reach 21st and 30th positions, respectively, in the latest men’s weekly update that includes the first Test between Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

Pakistan fast bowler Hasan Ali’s haul of nine for 89 in the first Test against Zimbabwe in Harare not only won him the player of the match award for starring in the innings victory but also enabled him to gain 15 slots and reach a career-best 20th position among bowlers.

Left-arm fast bowler Shaheen Afridi (up two places to 31st) and left-arm spinner Nauman Ali (up 12 places to 54th) have also advanced in the list for bowlers while left-handed batsman Fawad Alam continues his fine run, moving up 31 places to a career-best 47th position after scoring 140, his fourth century in 10 Test matches. Abid Ali is up six places to 78th position. 

For Zimbabwe, Regis Chakabva has gained two slots to reach 97th position while fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani has progressed 26 slots to reach 55th position with figures of four for 73.


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The story of Devapathiraja’s rise to glory



by Reemus Fernando

When the Devapathiraja team visited Colombo for the knockout stage matches of the just concluded Under-19 Division I tournament Lumbini and Wesley generously provided free lodgings for the team. When they host teams, Richmond come to their rescue providing accommodation for the visiting teams. Foundation of Goodness has been providing them team kits. Except the umpire fees, all their other expenses on cricket are met by the cricketers’ not so well to do parents. Their coach had done a voluntary job for a better part of the last two decades. In return, Devapathiraja College, Ratgama boxing their way up in the country’s schools cricket rankings have not disappointed.

When schools with over 100 years of rich cricket history and substantial funds to nurture the sport struggle in lower divisions in the premier Under-19 cricket tournament, Devapathiraja, a little known entity at the start of the millennium, have improved by leaps and bounds during the last two decades. Their latest achievement was reaching the final of the just concluded Under-19 Division I Tier ‘B’ cricket tournament.

Devapathiraja were the babies of the Tier ‘B’ of the Division I tournament inclusive of power houses of cricket namely Ananda College, Thurstan College and St. Peter’s College from Colombo and strongholds of Southern Province, Mahinda, St. Servatius’, St. Aloysius’ and Dharmasoka. Against many odds Devapathiraja reached the final. After being bowled out for a low score they made Mahinda College, Galle toil hard for victory.

Devapathiraja started playing cricket when their current coach Ranjan Lasantha de Silva was a student at the school. Many schools started playing hard ball cricket following the 1996 World Cup win. Ranjan, like the rest of the youth of his era was craving to play cricket. Unfortunately there was no cricket team or facilities for the sport at the school. He requested in writing that cricket be started at his school. Fortunately the principal, late T.A.C.N. Gunasekara had come from a cricket playing school (Revata College) and facilitated the start. Like the majority of schools which started playing cricket after 1996, the sport started with a Big Match against Sri Sumangala College, Hikkaduwa in 1997. But the sport did not really kick off until the correct combination of coach, Master in Charge and the sports loving youth got together a couple of years later.

With no previous coaching experience Ranjan after leaving school started training the school’s teams. By 1999 the school had started training all four age groups.

“I was influenced and helped by the likes of Tedlal Silva and Viraj Chaminda to pursue qualifications in coaching. So I did the Level I coaching course conducted by Sri Lanka Cricket. Also followed whatever other courses available to be qualified for the job. I must also thank former District Coach Lasith Chaminda and officials like, Jayananda Warnaweera for their support,” said Ranjan in an interview with The Island.

When cricket Devapathiraja commenced playing cricket they did not have a proper ground and the teams took refuge at the Ratgama Public ground. The school received a boost when Nishantha Kumara, who had the experience in running cricket at Neluwa National School received a transfer to Devapathiraja in 2000. He did all the necessary correspondence for all age group teams to play in Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association conducted tournaments and worked hand in hand with Ranjan until they were promoted to Division I.

Devapathiraja achieved their first breakthrough when they reached the final of the Under 19 Division III tournament in the 2013/14 season. They were the runners up to Debarawewa National School that season and earned the all important promotion to Division II the following year. It did not take too long for them to graduate from Division II to Division I.

“You have to play in the Division I category for your players to get recognition. Players in the lower divisions too are called for selection trials but it is highly unlikely for them to get the selectors’ nod. That realization compelled us to strive for Division I qualification,” said Ranjan.

However by the time they had reached the top Division they had already produced several cricketers to club level and one of their products, Tharindu Kaushal had played several Tests for Sri Lanka.

They were the Division II champions in the 2017/2018 season and commenced their Division I campaign in the 2018/19 season where they struggled but managed to avoid relegation.

Devapathiraja have done well in the lower age category tournaments as well and has produced players who have represented the Sri Lanka Schools Under-15 teams and National Youth Teams. Dilshan Kanchana, Umesh Mayurakantha, Pathum Madusanka, Raveen Yasas and Thikshila de Silva are among them.

According to Ranjan, cricket at Devapathiraja survives thanks to the contributions made by the cricketers’ parents who are not from well to do families. “The Schools Development Society provides umpire fees. But all other expenses are taken care of by cricketers’ parents. But there are others who help like the Foundation of Goodness which provides several scholarships for students and playing kits. Principal of Richmond College and the Masters in Charge of Cricket of both Mahinda and Richmond support us when we host teams. When we went to Colombo for the knockout stage matches Wesley College and Lumbini College provided lodging” said Ranjan.

Ranjan also appreciated the support given by the school’s Principal Sam Silva and current Master In Charge of Cricket Ranjith Kumbalathara.

Ranjan said that cricket at Devapathiraja has not only helped the national team find raw material but has also helped youth of the area to engage in sports in a meaningful way.

Devapathiraja Team:

Sudeera Weeraratne (Captain), Irushka Thimira, Dinitha Prabanka, Pawan Sandesh, Jeewaka Shasheen, Sasanka Nirmal, Tharindu Rukshan, Matheesha Saranga, Darshaka Sandeepa, Sandaru Theekshana, Chaminda Sandaruwan, Pathum Shaminda, Pradeep Rangana, Hiran Chamikara, Chanuka Sulakshana, Simash Dilunja.


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