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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.


Uncle Percy is 85 today



by Rex Clementine  

Cheerleader Percy Abeysekara turns 85 today. In his own words, ‘two years younger than Sir Garry Sobers and fitter than Sobers.’  

 Percy has been around cricket grounds cheering his beloved Sri Lanka and his favourite players for over 50 years now. Percy has many high profile friends in the sport.  

 Former India captain Ravi Shastri once wrote, ‘Percy, don’t lose your voice. Sri Lanka needs it more than you.’  

 Former New Zealand captain late Martin Crowe once gave away his Man of the Match award to Percy.  

 Once Percy was arrested in Australia; for entering the field of play. Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist protested. ‘Don’t make this an international crisis,’ they warned. Percy has friends even in the Aussie dressing room.  

 Cops in Australia are hard-nosed. They apparently give too hoots about what their Prime Minister thinks when it comes to implementing the law. But the few hours that Percy spent with them made them realize that this was not an overenthusiastic cricket fan. This is someone who had seen Don Bradman, Keith Miller, Neil Harvey et al.  

 Percy then asked the cops whether they knew the best advice Vic Richardson, Australia’s former captain gave his grandson Ian Chappell. They said no. ‘If you ever get a chance to captain Australia, don’t do it like a Victorian.’   

Now the arrest happened in the tiny city of Hobart in the small state of Tasmania. The cops actually were having a laugh that an outsider was taking a dig at a larger state. Percy knew the Aussie mentality.  

 He didn’t stop there. He quoted Shakespeare and Donne and the cops were overwhelmed. Not only was he let off without being charged, the cops were also seen taking pictures with Percy, an international icon.  

 Percy’s wit is his best friend.  

 Once a fan shouted. ‘Percy go home.’  

 Percy asked, Your home’  

 Once late Gamini Dissanayake asked, ‘Percy, why don’t you join the Cricket Board.’  

 Percy said, ‘Sir, there are three palanas I don’t like.  

One is Cricket palana.  

The second is deshapalana.  

The third is upath palana.’   

JR Jayewardene, another President of the board had also asked the same question a few years back. Percy replied him poetically. ‘Sir, I would rather be on the footboard than the Cricket Board.’  

 Here’s a man who has brought smiles to many cricket fans and players. We wish Uncle Percy well.

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Yupun, Nimali expected to provide solace



by Reemus Fernando

When the men’s 10,000 metres was held at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Sri Lanka’s Ranatunga Karunananda was the last to finish but he won the admiration of the hosts. His courageous run to complete the race after the winners had been decided, epitomize the Olympic creed- the most important thing is not to win but to take part. Like Karunananda, Yupun Abeykoon and Nimali Liyanarachchi are not among the top athletes in their disciplines but could take inspiration from the late athlete’s 1964 story when they compete against odds in their respective disciplines.

After witnessing the country’s wildcard entrants being eliminated from the first round in other sports during the last few days, sprinter Yupun Abeykoon and middle distance runner Nimali Liyanarachchi are expected to provide some solace when track and field sports of the Tokyo Olympics starts today.

Nimali Liyanarachchi has a huge burden on her shoulder to change things around when she competes in the women’s 800 metres today.

“Her preparations were hampered due to Covid 19 restrictions. I am banking on her fighting qualities to try and achieve her best performance here,” Nimali’s coach Sujith Abeysekara said in a telephone interview with The Island from Tokyo yesterday.

Nimali will compete in heat four where World Championship silver medallist Raevyn Rogers is the favourite. The US runner has run most of her races under two minutes. Nimali’s seasonal best of 2:03.15 seconds is at odds with her true potentials. But looking back at the hurdles she overcame to earn a wildcard for Olympics, the mere presence of the Sooriyawewa damsel in Tokyo itself is a victory and an encouragement for numerous underprivileged girls from outstations.

She was bedridden after meeting with an accident on the eve of Sri Lanka team’s departure to the South Asian Games in 2019. She spent a better part of the 2020 season on her recovery and when she was just getting ready to compete there were no competitions. On this backdrop even a seasonal best performance at today’s event will be a victory.

Five of her rivals in heat four have run the discipline under two minutes recently and it will be a tough ask for her to advance from the heat. Hence a seasonal best performance would be a realistic target.

Meanwhile, when the world search for a new Olympic champion in the men’s 100 metres after one and half decades, Sri Lanka’s track and field fans will want South Asian 100 metres record holder Yupun to advance from the heats.

Yupun in a social media post said that his goal was to be pressure free and try to advance to the next round. Abeykoon established a new Sri Lanka and South Asian record when he clocked 10.15 seconds in May and produced an outstanding fourth place finish at the Rome Diamond League in June to book a top rank in the world. In his post Yupun also reminded his fans of his Diamond League feat. “I hope everyone remembers the Diamond League I last participated. A lot of things can change in a race that ends between nine to ten seconds. I believe in my abilities and training. I will compete to get a good result.”

Abeykoon will compete in the men’s 100 metres heats on Saturday.

Track and field, the premier Olympic sport will feature many first round events today. However today’s only medal event (final) is the men’s 10,000 metres where Uganda’s world record-holder Joshua Cheptegei and world-leader Jacob Kiplimo are the men to beat.

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Sri Lanka eye series win after restricting India to 81



By Rex Clementine

Birthday boy Wanindu Hasaranga is emerging to be a top class match winner as he claimed career best figures of four for nine on his 24th birthday to help Sri Lanka reduce India to 81 for eight in the third and final T-20 International at RPS yesterday.

It was India’s lowest total against Sri Lanka and their third lowest total in T-20 cricket. 

It was a day where Sri Lanka did not do much wrong with fielders backing up the bowlers with some outstanding catching.  

India needed captain Shikhar Dhawan to score big with half their regulars, close contacts of Krunal Pandya who tested for COVID, in isolation. However, Dhawan departed in the first over and India never recovered from thereon.

Dushmantha Chameera was on the money from the start drawing the Indian captain for a drive and Dhananjaya de Silva at wide slip completed  the catch.

Skipper Dasun Shanaka raised his game remarkably. Terribly out of form with the bat, Shanaka did the job with the ball having brought himself on midway through India’s innings. He took a spectacular left-handed diving catch to dismiss Nitish Rana.

The rest of the bowling was impeccable too keeping up the pressure making run scoring difficult and it looked India were content to bat out the 20 overs to try and see what total they can get at.

Kuldeep Yadav at number seven top scored with an unbeaten 23 that came off 28 balls while Bhuvneshwar Kumar made 16. Opener Ruturaj Gaikwad was the only other to get into double figures as India lacked momentum throughout their innings.

The early damage was done by Hasaranga as India batsmen struggled to pick his straight delivery and were adjudged leg before wicket.

Sri Lanka are set for an easy win and this will be their first ever series victory over India in the shortest format of the game in eight attempts.

Caption: Wanindu Hasaranga claimed career  best figures of four for nine as India were restricted for 81 for eight in the  third T-20 International at RPS yesterday.

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