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A laughing stock



by Rex Clementine

We were a nation that reinvented how the one-day game was played. Our players were so skilful that they dominated the sport particularly in the white ball formats. Many are the careers that Sanath Jayasuriya ended with his brutal hitting. Many were the games that ended before noon after Chaminda Vaas ran through the top order. Many were the series that Sri Lanka won with a game to spare and then half a dozen seniors were rested for the dead rubber blooding in some promising youngsters. Today, England, the perennial underachievers in limited overs cricket are giving us a taste of our own medicine.

Not even during the nation’s formative years in the sport in 1980s, Sri Lanka suffered such ignominious defeats. Losing is part of the game, but what has been worrying is the manner in which Sri Lanka lost, unable to find the boundary in the Power Plays and unable to bat out the full quota of 20 overs. Surely, a school team would show more character and courage than this.

To make matters worse, the players are adamant that they will not sign central contracts. Four of them who were supposed to attend a residential training camp in Dambulla ahead of the India series were sent home on Saturday for their stubbornness.

England are the defending champions in the 50 over game and world’s number one ranked team in the 20 over format, not many fans expected Kusal Perera’s side return victorious when they went to UK. But at least, it was expected the team will put up a fight. The batting display they put up throughout the series was shocking to say the least. In England, you expect a team to improve on their batting performances as they spend more time on tour. Sri Lankan batting went on the reverse faring worse every game.

Batting has been a concern for some time now no doubt. There have been various excuses given over the last six months but it is tough to imagine how Grant Flower, the Batting Coach, will survive this debacle. When put under pressure, the options that the batsmen took were simply no good.

What’s more shocking is that coaches like Mickey Arthur and Tom Moody, who have been in the business for long enough now have failed to address tactical issues. The buck, however, should not stop with Flower, Arthur or Moody. We need to take a serious look at things.

Oshada Fernando has been one of our best finds in the last five years. But for god’s sake, he’s a solid Test match player. Why on earth would you expect him to convert his Test match successes in the T-20 format? The excuse that’s going to be given is that Oshada came in only because Avishka Fernando was injured. That’s correct but should you not have enough T-20 cricketers as back up especially now that you are carrying an extended squad.

To add insult to injury, Oshada was coming in when the Power Play was on. Now this is an area that you have been badly exposed earlier in the series and should you be not sending in someone who can clear the boundary? Sri Lanka played a brand of cricket making most of the fielding restrictions two and half decades ago. Today, our players are struggling to find the boundary. For Sanath Jayasuriya, hitting five boundaries in an over was something that he did frequently. Today, our entire team put together is not able to hit six boundaries in 20 overs.

It was clearly evident that Oshada did not belong there. Into the bargain, he’s also an average fielder and a poor runner between the wickets. Another person who doesn’t belong in T-20 format is Dhananjaya de Silva. Surely, we have seen enough of these players to know that in what format they are good at. But how come the decision makers aren’t so sure of these?

When Bhanuka Rajapaksa gets his act together and passes the fitness tests, Sri Lanka will have lesser headaches perhaps. Another guy who has to be seriously looked at for the T-20 format is Sadeera Samarawickrama. His attitude, work ethic and skill set were so good when he toured India and UAE in 2017. But ever since, he has not got a look in.

Here are some of the bigger issues that need to be addressed by all concerned. When the system was given a shake up with as many as six seniors axed from the white ball team, it was a welcome move as change was long overdue. However, the choice of captain was rather perplexing. Now, KJP is one of the nicest guys you will find in cricket. He minds his own business and not a social media warrior which most of our young players are. But he’s also an introvert. You have taken the tough decision of axing all your senior players, but then, how come you give flimsy reasons like that KJP is the only guy who is sure of a place in the side when handing him the captaincy? At one point you are being bold and few minutes later you are extra cautious.

Surely, there’s Dasun Shanaka who dethroned Pakistan as world’s number one ranked team in T-20s not so long ago. Why wasn’t he given the job back? Mysterious indeed. The first thing that KJP does after being appointed captain is to say that he is going to keep wickets. That put Niroshan Dickwella out of the side. Now, we are told that Dickwella was offered a top contract because he features in all three formats. Are these people taking us for a ride?

There are many changes that have happened in cricket and some of them are welcoming moves. But something that authorities are unable to do is changing the domestic structure. The moment we say this, the clubs are on war path. They treat the press like the plague. Provincial or club cricket, our elite domestic tournament can’t have two dozen teams. The rot started there. It was increased to please member clubs in 2016. Since then, our cricket has suffered new lows.


Sri Lanka Athletics gives priority to Asian Games



by Reemus Fernando

 Sri Lanka Athletics will give priority to Asian Games over the Commonwealth Games as the two major sports events take place within five weeks from each other in 2022. The track and field governing body indicated their priorities at a meeting with the National Olympic Committee yesterday.

“Our best chances are at the Asian Games. We are trying to get the best out of the talent we have. To achieve that we have set our priorities right. Though we are going to select a team for both events at the same stage we might not send some athletes for the Commonwealth Games,” a senior official of Sri Lanka Athletics told The Island after a meeting with the NOC yesterday.

“For example our best chances for the men’s 4×400 metres relay team is at the Asian Games. We might not field that team for the Commonwealth Games,” Saman Kumara, the statistician of Sri Lanka Athletics said.

“In 2002 we had both the Commonwealth Games (July 25- August 4) and the Asian Games within a span of two months. We had three men who could run 400 metres in 45 seconds. We had the best chance of winning the 4×400 metres gold in Busan but the Commonwealth Games had its toll on the runners when the time came for the Asian Games,” said Saman Kumara who has experience as both a selector and manager of teams for these games.

While the 2022 Commonwealth Games will be held from July 28 to August 8 in Birmingham, the Chinese city of Hangzhou will host Asian Games from September 10 to 25.

“We are almost certain of fielding a men’s 4×100 metres relay team for the Commonwealth Games provided they meet selection criteria. The men’s 4×400 metres relay team will be reserved for the Asian Games.”

Though medal prospects are dim in track events at the Commonwealth Games, Sri Lanka’s men’s 4×100 metres relay team consisting of Himasha Eshan, Shehan Ambepitiya, Vinoj Suranjaya and Mohamed Ashrafu had a memorable outing at the last edition in Gold Coast where they established the current national record clocking 39.08 seconds.

That record will be in danger now with Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon improving the national record this year and showing the ability to further improve the record.

Sri Lanka Athletics will update the current elite and national pools after concluding the remaining events of the National Championship at the end of next month. That pool will be maintained till March 2022 when the teams for both the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are selected. The centenary National Championships in 2022 April (8,9,10) will be the final selection trial for both the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.

Sri Lanka Athletics will also target forming a mixed relay team for the Asian Games as there are two strong contenders to fill the women’s spots in Nadeesha Ramanayake and Dilshi Kumarasainghe. While Kalinga Kumarage and Aruna Dharshana are the front runners for the men’s sports in the mixed relay, the next few months will be crucial for the rest of the sprinters aspiring to win a place in the team for the men’s 4×400 metres relay.

Given their current form, the 100 metres, 400 metres, 4x100metres, 4×400 metres, high jump, long jump, and javelin throw, in the men’s category, 800 metres, steeplechase, long jump, and marathon in the women’s category and the mixed relay are the disciplines in which athletes have shown potential in reaching qualifying standards.

Sri Lanka has won the majority of Asian Games medals in track and field events though the country has not witnessed medal success after the men’s 4×400 metres quartet of Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Rohitha Pushpakumara, Prasanna Amarasekara and  Ashoka Jayasundara won the bronze in 2006 in Doha. Since 2006 the country has won only two medals, both in cricket.

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SL begin World Cup preparations today



by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka’s cricketers who are in a bio-secure bubble at the Cinnamon Grand in Colombo will end their three day quarantine today and will start group training. Following the group training, there will be full squad training stimulating match situations and after ten days of practices in Colombo, the team will leave for Oman where they will play two T-20 Internationals.

Former captain Kusal Janith Perera, who sustained a hamstring injury during the South Africa series and was doubtful for the World Cup is in the bubble and The Island learns that there is a good possibility that he will recover by the time the World Cup starts.

KJP was axed as captain after just two tours and he missed the home series against India with a shoulder injury. He then tested positive for COVID and missed the ODI leg of the South Africa series and hurt his hamstring during the last T-20 International against the Proteas.

Sources said that KJP will tour with the squad to Oman but he is likely to be kept out of the games there and will be available for the qualifying round of the World Cup.

Sri Lanka’s bowling too is thin on experience for the Oman leg with SLC freeing Wanindu Hasaranga and Dushmantha Chameera, who are contracted with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. Both players are expected to join the squad just before the World Cup qualifiers.

Sri Lanka are slotted alongside Namibia, Netherlands and Ireland in the qualifying round and need to win two of those games to qualify. The games against Namibia and Netherlands will be played in Abu Dhabi while the crunch game against Ireland will take place in Sharjah. While Namibia and Netherlands do not pose much of a threat, Ireland can challenge Sri Lanka given all the troubles they have had in T-20 cricket in recent years.

Sri Lanka’s form lead up to the World Cup is not ideal having been blanked 3-0 by the Proteas at home. The two match series in Oman hopefully will give them momentum ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.

Apart from the squad of 15 players, the ICC allows four travelling reserves to be with the squad in case of replacements are needed in these uncertain times. Sri Lanka also are carrying five additional players at the board’s cost so that they will not be caught off guard in case of an emergency.

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SLC keen to help Pakistan and looking for a window



by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka Cricket is keen to help Pakistan once again after cricket in the country came to a standstill with New Zealand and England pulling out from their bilateral tours. Pakistan cricket chief former Test captain Ramiz Raja had reached out to his counterparts at SLC requesting the possibilities of a short tour. However, SLC is cramped for room for an immediate tour but will consider travelling to the country for a white ball series, possibly this year, SLC sources told The Island.

Sri Lanka are set to leave for Oman on the 3rd of October and that ruled out a series in Pakistan before the ICC T-20 World Cup. Soon after the World Cup, Sri Lanka will host West Indies for two Tests and the board will look at the possibility of touring Pakistan after that series.

Cricket in Pakistan stopped after the 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore. Pakistan were forced to play their home games in UAE, an exercise that cost the PCB an arm and a leg.

In 2017, Pakistan made a huge step forward when the last game of a bilateral series against Sri Lanka was played in Lahore. In that series, two Tests, five ODIs and two T-20s had been played in UAE and the final T-20 in Lahore.

Since, then Pakistan has hosted Bangladesh, West Indies and Zimbabwe in limited overs cricket while South Africa had played Test match cricket. Sri Lanka had toured Pakistan for both white ball and red ball games.

PCB was looking to bring all international teams back to the country but the pulling out of New Zealand in the 11th hour followed by England’s no show have been massive blows. Pakistan officials have been bitter about the cancellations and have promised to take up the matter with the ICC.

SLC was highly impressed by the security arrangements that were in place for the team and officials during all their visits and had sent senior Air Force officer Roshan Biyanwala to assess the situation before the team travelled to Pakistan. Biyanwala had given a clean slate and the tours completed successfully.

Pakistan has been one of Sri Lanka’s strongest allies in cricket. Several Pakistan players including former great Wasim Akram played a hastily arranged exhibition match in Colombo along with leading Indian stars before the 1996 World Cup when Australia and West Indies pulled out due to security reasons.

Much before that, Pakistan was a pillar of strength when Sri Lanka applied for full member status with the ICC in 1970s. Abdul Hafeez Kardar in his capacity as Chairman of the Pakistan board aggressively pushed Sri Lanka’s case. He was responsible in training Sri Lankan coaches and curators in Pakistan to uplift the standard of the game in the island.

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