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A Historic Flight Revisited!

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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.



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Sri Lanka seek results after hard work  

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by Rex Clementine  

Sri Lanka have competed well in patches in their recent outings in Test match cricket, but they have lacked the killer blow instinct. Too often we have seen, Mickey Arthur’s side doing all the hard work in a game and spoiling that all – often in a session. A dramatic collapse, dropped catches, poor reviews, injuries or lackluster bowling have hurt the team. The main issue they need to address is that lack of application by batsmen who have thrown it away with some brainless cricket.

There’s a selection dilemma with former skipper Angelo Mathews returning to the side after missing the West Indies Tests due to personal reasons. Pathum Nissanka, who came in for his place, grabbed the opportunity from both hands with a hundred on debut. He became the first Sri Lankan to score a Test hundred in his maiden Test away from home.

It remains to be seen whom the selectors will leave out.  It could be Oshada Fernando with Nissanka swapping places for the number three slot. Or it could be Niroshan Dickwella, from whom wicketkeeping gloves could be taken away and given to Dinesh Chandimal.

The move has been something that has been discussed for a while now but since being put under pressure, Dickwella has not only contributed with the bat but shown more responsibility as well. The first Test match against Bangladesh gets underway on Wednesday in a bio secure bubble. Expect a bit of rain during the series, particularly in the evenings as it is always the case in the hill capital. Well, we were actually told when the ground was built that it was located in one of the driest areas in the Central Province. Very little the press realized that we were being taken for a ride. And of course the venue is located in the electorate of the then Sports Minister.

Bangladesh need to raise their game in this series after a disappointing few months at home. That they will not have the services of Shakib Al Hasan and Mustafizur Rahman is a further blow for them.

Pallekele will host both Tests and could be a major hub throughout this year when limited over games take place in ‘bio bubble’ environment.

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Sri Lanka back pace for Bangladesh Tests

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by Rex Clementine

Having conducted the England Test series so well in a ‘bio-secure bubble’ in Galle, Sri Lanka Cricket has decided to move the Bangladesh series to Pallekele. Did any technical reasons prompt SLC to move from the coastal town to the hill capital?  Not really. The move is a tactical one. The Sri Lankans would be thinking that spin is Bangladesh’s strength so the best way to beat them is through pace. Hence, the shift to Kandy where seamers get much more purchase and value for money for their efforts.

The move may look somewhat defensive. Given the England experience where the Somerset duo of Dom Bess and Jack Leach made a mockery of Sri Lanka’s top and middle order, the hosts seem to be not wanting to play into Bangladesh’s hands whose spinners have been quite formidable in recent years.

Hence having shifted base to Kandy, Sri Lanka could go all out with a  pace heavy attack when the Test series gets underway next week. Wanindu Hasaranga could be the only spinner in the side with Dhananjaya de Silva’s part time off-spin as back up.

Lahiru Kumara has returned to the squad having missed the West Indies tour after being tested positive for COVID-19. There was a lot of excitement that Sri Lanka would be able to see two of their quickest bowlers in action in the same match but Dushmantha Chameera, has pulled out from the series due to personal reasons.

Suranga Lakmal, who was named Player of the Series in the Caribbean after his impressive performance, will spearhead the attack. Vishwa Fernando will add variety with his left arm bowling and it remains to be seen how well he does in helpful conditions having fared well in South Africa early this year.

There are a few issues with the spin department after Lasith Embuldeniya was ruled out with injury. Duvindu Tillekeratne is also down with injury while Prabath Jayasuriya, who had shown la ot of promise was almost picked for the series but he became ineligible for selection after failing the skin fold test marginally. That opened up a slot for rookie Praveen Jayawickrama who is thin on experience having played just a handful of First Class matches

Bangaldesh will be handicapped as Shakib Al Hasan their biggest match winner is in India playing the IPL. They will also miss the services of Mustafizur Rahman, the spearhead of the attack.

Still, the tourists have some solid players. Off-spinner Mehidy Hasan recently became the fastest Bangladeshi to claim 100 Test wickets and at the age of 23 a  lot is expected of him.  He is more than a  handy bat having already posted a hundred and three half-centuries in Test match cricket.

Tamim Iqbal, Mominul Haque and Mushfiqur Rahim are the mainstay of their batting. Mushfiqur has been ever present in the Bangladeshi side having made his Test debut 16 years ago at the age of 18.

Former captain Angelo Mathews is back in the side having returned home from the West Indies early. Which of the seven batters will miss out to accommodate Mathews remains to be seen.

Sri Lanka have won 16 of the 20 Tests against Bangladesh and lost just one game. However, most of those wins were in the early days and in recent years Bangladesh have done well competing and drawing games. 

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Sebs’ cricket stalwart Cooray retires after more than three decades of service

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by Reemus Fernando

Franklyn Cooray, the former Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association official, retired as the Master in Charge of Cricket of St. Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa after completing more than three and half decades of yeoman service recently. Franklyn Cooray who was popular in cricket circles as Frank Cooray, was the longest serving team official at the time of his retirement. During his 37 year association with schools cricket, Cooray witnessed the evolution of First XI cricket from mere Traditional matches to present day tournaments of varying divisions and was involved in St. Sebastian’s cricket as a coach and Master in Charge guiding the destiny of many future national cricketers.

Cooray played First XI cricket for St. Sebastian’s from 1962 to 1966 and was among the very few Sebs cricketers of his era to have tasted Big Match success. He captained all age group teams of St. Sebastian’s. After leaving school he worked at the Irrigation Department as a Senior Technical Officer and played in the Government Services ‘A’ Division Cricket tournament until making a premature retirement in 1983.

He was entrusted with the responsibility of training cricketers of St. Sebastian’s in 1984 by Rev. Bro. Nimal Gurusinghe, when coaching was voluntary. Three years later Cooray was included in the tutorial staff by Rev. Bro. Granville Perera. He was the coach cum Master in Charge of St. Sebastian’s from 1987 to 1994 and held the latter position until his retirement this year.

During his tenure as a coach, Cooray provided guidance at different levels to several Sebs who later became household names. Of them Dulip Mendis, Roger Wijesuriya, Susil Fernando, Romesh Kaluwitharana and Sajeewa de Silva went on to play Test cricket. “Kaluwitharana was coached by Brother Gurusinghe before he came under my supervision at senior level,” Cooray recalled in an interview with The Island.

Cooray was the Master in Charge of Cricket when the likes of Prasanna Jayawardena, Dinusha Fernando, Vishwa Fernando, Amila Aponso, Avishka Fernando and Oshada Fernando learnt their ABC of cricket at St. Sebastian’s.

While being the MIC, Cooray was also entrusted with the responsibility of the curator after a turf wicket was laid at the St. Sebastian’s ground in 1990.

He was selected to SLSCA Executive Committee in 1988 and a year later became the Under-19 tournament secretary, a position he held until 2006. He was among the leading officials of SLSCA who were instrumental in introducing the two-day league tournament and the Under-19 tournament structure with three Divisions. As of late it has undergone many changes.

However he was against introducing the points system that determined winners on first innings points. “That system would promote the culture of playing for trophies. I never encouraged the point system for first innings wins. We gave points only for outright victories. During our time we hardly batted after tea. We would try to score as much as possible in the morning and declared and get the opposition to bat in the afternoon. That way we would try to win outright. That was lost after the points system was introduced,” opined Cooray.

Cooray also lamented the absence of natural stroke play among present day cricketers. “Players going for their natural strokes is something that we are missing greatly these days. You must encourage batsmen to go for their natural strokes,” said Cooray.

He was the Under-19 tournament secretary of the SLSCA at a time when computers were yet be utilized for calculation of points and to make points tables of the league tournaments. Yet as schools cricket reporters would recall he was readily available with a near accurate points table of the tournament at the end of every week during the schools cricket season.

Apart from holding the Under-19 tournament secretary position, Cooray also held the junior national coach position briefly. He was the coach of the Sri Lanka Under-15 side that toured England for the Under-15 Lombard World Challenge.

His contribution to cricket was recognized by the International Cricket Council in 2009 when he was presented with a medal during its Centenary Medals Presentation for Volunteers.

As he steps in to retirement with loads of fond memories from cricket, Cooray thanked former administrators of St. Sebastian’s Rev. Bro. Nimal Gurusinghe and Rev. Bro. Granville Perera, late Rev. Fr. Bonnie Fernandopulle who made it possible for him to take up coaching and cricket administration and coaches including Kanishka Perera who helped during his tenure.

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