by Rajitha Ratwatte
A cloudless blue sky, the temperature hovering around 10 degrees Celsius, dry conditions underfoot all the requirements for a day of glorious running rugby in Aotearoa – New Zealand. The Maori All Blacks (basically a name for the second string) and the mighty All Blacks themselves on show against the Pacific nations of Samoa and Tonga. The Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland full of colourful Pacifica come to support their teams, all in all, a rugby fan’s day in heaven!
The betting heavily in favour of the “black” teams but the first match got off to a hotly contested start. Manu Samoa in this their second outing in two weeks against the Maori Abs’ keeping the home team scoreless for the first 20 minutes and making the scores level in the 23rd minute. The NZ no10 Oteri Black who was probably playing his last game on NZ soil (choosing to take a lucrative overseas contract) began to dominate play with some searing runs and judicious kicking. The final score read 38 – 21 to the Maori All Blacks in a good hard-fought game however, unfortunately, it was not the rugby that was the issue!
The controversy began a minute before half time the NZ team crossed the line, but the try was denied by the on-field refereeing team due to non-grounding. When referred to the TMO not only was this confirmed but the TMO found a technicality and the Samoan number five was accused of collapsing a maul basically inches in front of the try line (if it happened over the line the rule doesn’t apply) and the mandatory punishment of a penalty try and a yellow card was applied by Mike Frazer the on-field ref. Now Mike Frazer had a terrible series of games during the Super Rugby Aotearoa season too by having no feel for the on-field situation of the game and simply applying the “rule is a rule” mentality! The Samoans went into halftime with the score reading 19–7 and facing the possibility of being one man short for the first eight minutes or so of the second half.
They came back roaring and scored a try under the posts within two minutes of the restart, being one player short, taking the score to 19–14. The crowd went wild, and rock music was pounding from the great sound system that the Mt. Smart Stadium has, blue flags everywhere, and even the old ladies dancing in the aisles. Controversy struck again! Another foray across the Samoan line by the Maori Blacks seemed to result in a knock-on over the line. The TMO had a look and lo and behold a Samoan player on the ground seemed to be knocking the ball out of the hands of the Black player. Pedanticity (is that even a word?) prevailed once again and in the words of Sir John Kirwan, on the commentary team “a sledgehammer was used to kill an ant”, another penalty try and a yellow card from Mike Frazer! I have spoken about the interpretation of the rules and the dire necessity for the on-field referee to have the ability to look at the game situation and make a call when applying the rules. Is this what we want our game to be? Mindless application of the rule book by officials who are unable, or do not have the confidence and integrity to read the game and make a judgment on the current implications and future repercussions to the flow of the game, of the actions of a player when applying them. It is up to the world body to take action and do it NOW!
The second game was expected to be a big win for the All Blacks and many bets had been recorded for a 100+ scoreline. The All Blacks were at full strength with the only possible weakness being Ricco Ioane at no13 a controversial decision that is sure to have repercussions when the standard of the opposition gets better. However, Ricco has had his pathway to no13 in the All Blacks paved in gold, and ever since he moved from the wing to center for the Auckland Blues and got the unreserved backing of the press, it was simply a matter of time. Aaron Smith was not needed for the game and T.J. Peranara the other contender for the number nine jersey was also not around. Beauden Barret was on the bench for the no10 position a good decision because he is primarily a no10 and was wasted at full-back during the last World Cup. Ritchie Mo’uanga was starting at no10, and the team captained by that great servant of NZ rugby, second-rower Sam Whitelock in the absence due to injury of the regular skipper Sam Cane, great decisions by the selectors.
The red jerseyed Tongans proved to be no match with the final score reading 102–0 to the New Zealanders. Will Jordan wearing the number 14 strip for the Blacks helped himself to a Michelle Pfeiffer (5 tries and not wickets as is the usual parlance) in this cricket-like score that was racked up. Jordan was all over the field and showed his flair as a great attacking fullback. Ritchie Mo’uanga was at his immaculate best, but he did miss a few kicks at goal which again may prove a weakness when the opposition gets better. Beauden Barret did a great job when he did come off the bench and even Paddy Tuapoletu, the huge number five ran 35 meters and helped himself to a try in the last few minutes of the game. George Bridges had only one try from the wing, mainly because the ball never reached the wing with the Samoan defence being breached almost at will by the Abs’. Dalton Papalii had a great game in the third row and so did Nathan Blackadder who made his All-Black debut in the footsteps of his illustrious father Todd Blackadder.
A feature was that the Tongans who could have avoided the 100-point scoreline which was achieved after the full-time siren continued to play on when they could have kicked the ball out at the siren. Beauden Barret made his intentions clear that he was going for the three-figure mark when he took a quick dropkick off the penultimate try and restarted play quickly. The officiating was much less controversial but then again there was hardly any pressure.
Dasun Shanaka backs inexperienced Sri Lanka to go deep: ‘I think we’ve struck a good balance
Sri Lanka may have had a horror year in terms of squad building and preparation, and the biggest tests undoubtedly lie ahead, but that has failed to dull captain Dasun Shanaka’s optimism ahead of the Men’s T20 World Cup. Drawing parallels to the vintage side that won the 2014 tournament, the Sri Lanka captain feels that his current side has similar depth and variety, something he believes could see them potentially go a “long way in this tournament” – even if they lack considerably in terms of experience.
“If you recall, that squad had a lot of variety and depth. And with the youngsters we have coming through now I feel have the same potential, but the only thing lacking is the experience,” Shanaka said, speaking on a captains’ Zoom call. “If our guys perform to their strengths I feel they can go a long way in this tournament. Our fans in Sri Lanka have been waiting a long time for us to be successful, and I hope we can make them proud.”
Much of Shanaka’s optimism stems from the balance the team has seemingly struck in the past few weeks. For most of the year Sri Lanka’s white-ball batting blueprint had centred around the likes of Danushka Gunathilaka, Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Mendis, but following the trio’s ban for breaching curfew and bio-bubble protocols, the last few months have seen the Sri Lankan think-tank mix and match several options in the top and middle order with little success.
However, following a training camp last month, which consisted of several intra-squad matches geared towards nailing down roles for each player, Sri Lanka seem to have stumbled on something resembling balance.
Avishka Fernando has been a revelation at No. 4, Chamika Karunaratne and Shanaka have shown promise in their roles as finishers lower down the order, and in the bowling department there are two quicks who can regularly dish out speeds touching 140kph, and spinners with as many variations as you’re likely to see all tournament.
“We were not able to perform up to the mark in the last few years, but still the strength of our squad is very good. We’ve got two guys coming from the IPL [Dushmantha Chameera and Wanindu Hasaranga], Kusal Janith [Perera] at the top of the order and Avishka Fernando, who is going well, coming in at No. 4.
“We are settled with our batting line-up. We’ve recently changed our line-up a bit – I think we’ve struck a good balance.”
The only point of debate, combination-wise, might be at the top of the order, with the opening combination still unsettled. Sri Lanka have tried out three different pairs in their last four matches, with one of Dinesh Chandimal, Perera and Dhananjaya de Silva partnering Pathum Nissanka. Indeed, despite being a last-minute addition to the squad, Nissanka seems to be the only certainty in terms of Sri Lanka’s opening combo, and Shanaka is backing the highly rated youngster – who has yet to make his mark in white-ball cricket – to show his class on the biggest stage.
“He’s been a guy coming through the system, so we know how capable he is. Still, when you come to the biggest stage you have to make your mark by scoring good runs. I feel he will make this tournament his own and make it count.”
Shanaka has far fewer concerns is in the bowling department. Even with Nuwan Pradeep being ruled out of the tournament with an eleventh-hour hamstring injury, Sri Lanka have in Chameera and Lahiru Kumara two bowlers capable of clocking high speeds.
Chameera’s 2021 T20 record in particular has been worthy of note, with his 15 wickets in 12 T20Is and an economy rate of 6.51. Needless to say a fit Chameera is integral to Sri Lanka’s plans.
“Going with two main fast bowlers, they give a lot of quality to the squad. And Associate nations, they don’t face a lot of 140+ fast bowlers.
“Obviously losing Pradeep is a concern. He had been bowling brilliantly over the last six months, and we were counting on him during this tournament, but still what we can get from Lahiru Kumara and Dushmantha is massive.”
In the spin department, meanwhile, Sri Lanka boast the No.2-ranked spinner in the world in Hasaranga – a 2021 that brought 20 wickets in 12 matches with an economy rate of 5.59, tells its own story – while in Maheesh Theekshana Sri Lanka have the latest from their production line of mystery spinners. Akila Dananjaya also provides experience and guile, even if he is yet to scale the heights he frequented prior to a change in bowling action.
“He [Hasaranga] has been amazing over the last two years, and now he’s sitting in the No. 2 spot [in the rankings]. He’s very hard to pick at times, because he bowls from a lower angle. Meanwhile, along with Wanindu, we also have Maheesh Theekshana – that’s two young, exciting talents. Going forward I feel that they will do a really good job for the team.”
Sri Lanka also have one final ace in their corner in Mahela Jayawardene, who recently took up a role as consultant coach. During his stint with Mumbai Indians in the IPL, Jayawardene has proven himself as one of the most tactically astute minds in world cricket, and Shanaka feels having him in his corner is proving invaluable.
“He’s been amazing over the years, and tactically he’s brilliant. As a captain, he’s been giving me a lot of support in the field. For me, tactically he’s the best in the business. He’s been a real help to all of us.”
Sri Lanka begin their T20 World Cup campaign against Namibia on 18 October. (cricinfo)
Golf Union wants to make a strong showing at Asian Games
The Sri Lanka Golf Union has made elaborate plans to complete an exhaustive schedule in the forthcoming months to improve the standard of Golf in the country. Covid -19 did set the proposed programs behind. The Golf Union together with the Ministry of Sport, the National Olympic Committee, and the health authorities have made plans to fast forward the delayed tournaments in the coming months.
The Sri Lanka Golf Union will send two players to participate in the forthcoming Asia Pacific Golf Tournaments for men and women which takes place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively. The tournament for men will be held in Dubai from November 7 to 14 whilst the women’s event will be in Abu Dhabi from November 15 to 21.
M.U. Chanaka Perera will tee off in the men’s category whilst Taniya Balasuriya will take part in the women’s. Both golfers have been invited by virtue of their World Amateur Handicap Ranking. Young Vinod Weerasinghe a rising star too was invited to participate in the men’s category but due to unforeseen circumstances will not make it to Dubai.
The Golf Union has finalized different squads to be put through a strenuous training schedule in the coming months. The National Squad, Development Squad and Junior Squads will undergo on-course training in addition to physical fitness training under supervision.
“Plans are in place to get both men and women golfers in peak condition by mid-next year to make a strong showing at the Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China. Sri Lanka Golf will enter four male and four female golfers to participate in the individual and team events,” a Golf Union press release quoted Michael Perera Magala, President of the Golf Union as having said.
“Plans are underway to hold Sri Lanka’s ranking Tournaments in November and December 2021 and conclude the prestigious 132 Sri Lanka Amateur Championship and Sri Lanka Open in January 2022. We are in the process of moving to a unified and worldwide accepted World Handicapping System for all golfers with the support of all Golf Clubs in Sri Lanka. This will be a beneficial move to all golfers in Sri Lanka,” a Golf Union press release quoted Ranil Pieris, Vice President of Sri Lanka Golf as having said.
The lack of golf courses has been a setback for young golfers to take up the game though Sri Lankans have been gifted with high hand/eye coordination. Led by the Royal Colombo Golf Club and ably supported by Nuwara Eliya Golf Club, Victoria Golf Club- Digana, Eagles Golf Club- Trinco, and Shangri-La Golf Club- Hambantota, have all been supportive in their willing service to the Golf Union by extending their facilities to improve Golf in Sri Lanka.
According to the Golf Union, women’s golf is in an upward trend with many young players taking to the game ably supported by Anouk Chitty. “We intend making a strong showing at the forthcoming Asian Games,” Chitty was quoted having said.
Junior Golf is an area that has been the focal point and Niloo Jayetileke has her sights set on drawing many new talented players to the game. “Royal and Ancient in Scotland have a support programme which has been beneficial in this area. Five tournaments are being held for Juniors each year and plans are underway to tie up with an Indian Golfing Group to extend this programme to reach a greater height,” Niloo Jayetileke was quoted having said.
Meanwhile, Ministry of Sport has been approached to build a Golf Range for the SLGU. Led by President Michael Perera Magala, Ranil Pieris, Air Chief Marshal Harsha Abeywickrema, Sudath Getawakanda, Lal Wickrematunge, and the Council members are laying the foundation in popularizing golf in Sri Lanka.
Maqsood, Jatinder help Oman lead 10-wicket rout of PNG
Zeeshan Maqsood’s left-arm spin set it up, and a strong opening stand in which both Jatinder Singh and Aqib Ilyas hit unbeaten fifties completed a commanding ten-wicket win for Oman against PNG in the opening game of the T20 World Cup 2021.
PNG had shrugged off a nightmare start when they lost two wickets and remained scoreless for 11 balls, building a good recovery through Assad Vala and Charles Amini, but unravelled from a healthy looking 102 for 3 in 14 overs to 118 for 9 in just 20 balls, with Maqsood being the demolisher in chief.
Maqsood took three wickets in the 16th over, his second of the innings, to rip the heart out of PNG’s innings. He ended with 4 for 20, even bowling the final over, as PNG were restricted to 129 for 9 on a good batting deck, having looked on track for 150-plus a short while ago.
Oman then bossed the chase, with Jatinder in particular unfurling an array of strokes against the Oman bowlers, particularly square of the wicket on either side. Jatinder ended the chase with a thumping six over midwicket to finish with an unbeaten 73 off 42 balls. Ilyas was more sedate, but did his role with 50* off 43, as Oman got to victory in a mere 13.4 overs, giving their net run-rate a significant early boost.
Vala, Amini shrug off poor start
Bilal Khan and Kareemullah removed one opener each in their first overs, and only an inside-edged single off the last ball of the second over prevented PNG from starting their innings with two wicket-maidens. But after that start, Amini and Vala settled down and the early wobble had no effect on how they went about constructing the PNG innings. Amini was particularly free-flowing, regularly finding the fence. Vala too got into his groove and both men had taken PNG to 81 for 2 in 11.2 overs when disaster struck. Vala was unable to work a length ball from medium-pacer Mohammad Nadeem away, and it rolled back down the pitch perfectly for the bowler to collect it on his follow through. Amini, perhaps eager to get on strike since he was hitting the ball so well, had hared halfway down the pitch thinking a single was on. He had to scramble and turn back, but was never going to be in time to beat a direct hit, which is what Nadeem achieved. The 81-run stand had taken just 60 balls, and while Amini and Vala were going strong, even 160 seemed within reach.
For a brief while after Amini left, Vala took up the reins of quick scoring. The over after Amini was out, Vala was involved in a collision with Maqsood at the non-striker’s end when the bowler moved to his right to field a ball, and though the contact was not heavy, Vala seemed to fall awkwardly on his ankle and needed treatment. After that, he noticeably looked more aggressively for boundaries, biffing balls from the crease, rather than his previous mix of boundaries and runs. That perhaps brought about his downfall too, and his was the first wicket to fall in Maqsood’s adrenaline-rush 16th over. Maqsood struck with his first, third and fifth balls in the over, and suddenly, PNG went from still looking like putting up a reasonable score to battling to avoid being all out early.
Jatinder tees off
In the defence of a sub-par total on a good batting deck, PNG needed discipline from their bowlers. However, almost every over had a loose delivery, and Jatinder ensured he cashed in on practically each one. If offered width he stroked and cut through the offside, and if the bowlers dropped short, he pummelled them in the arc between square leg and long-on.
The powerplay brought 46 runs for Oman and the match as a contest was quickly dwindling. Initially, both Jatinder and Ilyas kept the same pace, unhurried because of the target but brisk nonetheless. Gradually, the tempo shifted to Jatinder pulling out the big hits, middling the ball beautifully, while Ilyas slipped into the supporting role. Jatinder reached fifty in 33 balls, in the middle of a whopping 17-run over against Damien Ravu which lasted nine balls.
Ilyas eventually got to the landmark too, taking 43 balls, and one delivery later, Jatinder had finished things off with fourth six.(cricinfo)
PNG 129 for 9 (Assad Vala 56, Charlers Amini 37; Bilal Kahn 2-16, Kaleemullah 2-19, Zeeshan Maqsood 4-20)
Oman 131 for no loss (Aqib Ilyas 50 n.o., Jatinder Singh 73 n.o.)
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