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A script gone sour!

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36th Anniversary of Sri Lanka’s first ever Test match at Lord’s – Part 1

by Rohan Wijeyaratna

“We’ve actually come here” said the middle-aged man seated next to me, “to watch a proper game of cricket”. Dressed in jacket and a gaudy ‘bacon and eggs’ tie, he was with a group of four others, settling into their seats in the upper tiers of the New Tavern Stand, with the expectation of witnessing an enjoyable day’s cricket. The drift of their conversation seemed no different to the sentiments expressed in the English press and elsewhere, that the game about to begin would be agreeably one sided. Many felt England had a great opportunity of redeeming themselves after the fearful thrashing they received at the hands of the West Indies, earlier that summer.

No one could fault such sentiment. Sri Lanka’s lead up to their first Test at Lord’s had been less than impressive. Beginning 25th July, the Lankans played Nottinghamshire, Surrey, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Sussex and Warwickshire and – barring Kent – they failed to bowl out any of the other sides even once. Also, they lost to Surrey. “Not much better than Cambridge University” was the honest appraisal of an experienced county coach, without stooping to insult. Going by the match results at the time, that seemed fair comment.

England’s rough summer

This was 23rd August 1984. England had suffered a complete ‘blackwash’ earlier that summer at the hands of the West Indies, losing 5-0. The pounding was so intense and intimidating, it prompted cricket sages like Jim Swanton to suggest the drawing of a mandatory line across the wicket, compelling bowlers to pitch beyond it. That the West Indians derived most of their menace through their unrelenting pace there was no doubt, but the extent to which they used the short pitched delivery made it seem that batting was as much an exercise in self defense as it was, in defense of the wicket. Even night-watchmen weren’t spared. Batsmen literally jumped out of their skins with both feet off the ground, trying to keep the ball down, or frantically swaying out of the way to avoid grievous injury. The bowlers were like men possessed. There were not just one or two of them, but often four in tandem; all delivering at furious pace, unrelenting fury and unerring accuracy. Importantly, they were all pitched short of a good length. Whichever side of the divide one belonged, there was no denying this was violent cricket, which fell way short of the game’s famed chivalry. Given all of that, the Sri Lankan match at the tail end of the summer, was expected to offer the perfect antidote to what had gone on before.

Manna from heaven!

On a murky overcast morning, David Gower won the toss and sensing some possible early inroads, decided to field. As it proved, it was a serious misjudgment. Shortly, Wettimuny and Amal Silva walked out from the shadows of the hallowed pavilion at Lord’s, nervously aware how many illustrious men have trodden those very same steps before. They were greeted with polite applause, and soon everyone had taken their positions. But just before ‘play’ was called, there was an interruption. A scattering of banner waving detractors invaded the field and held up play for several minutes, to the complete bemusement of all! It took a while to connect that this was a demonstration with political connotations. When the ground was finally cleared, it was evident the pitch invasion had left its mark on at least one person in the middle.

Walking to the middle and facing the first ball of a Lord’s Test match could be a daunting task to even the best amongst experienced campaigners. Sidath Wettimuny was no exception. The long walk, then taking guard, taking in the atmosphere, enduring the suspense of the ‘wait’ for the first ball; being sub-consciously reminded of his team’s expectations of him – all these would have created their own share of tensions, adding to the butterflies already in his stomach. Then suddenly, there came the disruption! To an already tensed Sidath Wettimuny, this seemed like manna from heaven!

On his way!

This disruption helped ease the mounting tension within Sidath Wettimuny and soon he was seen busily making explanations to his shell-shocked adversaries as to what the invasion was all about. Just moments before, these very same men had been aggressively scowling at him from the slip cordon and elsewhere, and now they were lapping up every word he uttered, as though it was the gospel! The interlude must have helped dispel all the butterflies in his stomach, for, when play got under way, and a shortish delivery presented itself outside the off, Wettimuny lost no time in getting well on top of it, cutting it neatly to the left of point for two. Shortly thereafter to a ball that was even shorter and wider, he launched into the type of shot he would normally never have played, unless well past 20. It was a well controlled, searing square cut, which sent the leather scuttling away between fourth slip and gully, to register Sri Lanka’s first Test boundary at Lord’s.

Wettimuny continued in this vein, taking most of the strike and doing most of the scoring. Presently, he essayed a sublime drive past point off Botham for four, and then unfurled a sumptuous repeat of the shot off Ellison. At most times he was copybook perfect, and when he wasn’t, he made sure the ball met the bat at its sweetest spot. Wide half volleys were spectacularly square driven while several other memorable strokes followed, as he reached the first of several milestones during his epic innings. He brought up his 50 by rolling off two dashing fours off Agnew in the final over before lunch; the first – an uppish slash over the slips to a very wide ball which stood up, and the other – a near one handed cover drive, coiling and then uncoiling with the shot, in one beautiful symphonic movement. Sri Lanka came into lunch at 81 for 2 with Wettimuny having made 51 of them.

Near vulnerable position

For a while at least within the first hour when the scoreboard read 42-2 after 13 overs, Gower’s decision with the toss seemed vindicated. Even though Jim Fairbrother’s farewell wicket to Test cricket was the friendliest featherbed any batting side could have asked for, and even though the bowling did no justice to the four slips and gully that stood in patient hope, Amal Silva batting with no trouble at all was trapped leg before to a Botham in-swinger. Madugalle the next man in, was comprehensively bowled shortly thereafter, to a delivery which swung back late. This left Wettimuny and Roy Dias to navigate the innings from a somewhat vulnerable position to the safety of the luncheon break, with the game still, evenly poised.

A throwback to a bygone era

If England harboured any hopes of an early breakthrough upon resumption, such hopes were quickly dashed by the two Sri Lankans. What unfolded after lunch was a delightful interlude of sublime Asian batting artistry, where wristwork, footwork, placement and touch, were amply displayed in a throwback to a by-gone era of technically correct batting, laced with style and unending grace. There was no further evidence needed to showcase the cricketing pedigree of both these batsmen. Relying mostly on his water-tight technique and his lyrical off-side driving, Wettimuny shortly reached his hundred in the 54th over, out of a total of 154. As the entire ground stood to him in warm applause, it was evident that the spirit of cricket was alive and well, and good cricket was being recognized; never mind from where it came.

Dias meanwhile, not to be outdone, displayed shades of his undisputed class. His regally elegant off-side play was complemented with decisive clips through midwicket to anything that was on his pads. He had not just style and grace, but command as well in all his offerings, but just when the stage was really well set for one great innings to remember, Dias fell victim to a clever piece of deception by the wily Surrey off- spinner Pocock. The bowler enticed him to go through with the shot, to a ball that hadn’t quite arrived and Dias paid the penalty. He made 32 out of a 102 run partnership from 150 minutes of batting.

In his element

The departure of Roy Dias brought the pugnacious 21 year old Ranatunga to the center. Looking every bit as cheeky as he always was, Ranatunga quickly set about scuttling the bowling with an array of off side shots, using no noticeable back lift and curbing himself until the ball was almost upon him. He would then lean into it with some muscle and scuttle it away, be it from backward point to long-on. Anything that was on his pads, he would deftly deflect backward of square, with the assurance of a man who was in complete control of himself.

Wettimuny meanwhile, was increasingly stricken with cramp and was content on playing second fiddle. This allowed Ranatunga to take on the bulk of the bowling. The leftie would busily square drive or punch on the off, picking gaps or creating them, while gorging himself on the bowling as if it were a plate of rice. At tea, Sri Lanka were 173 for three and by the end of the day’s play 30 minutes before the scheduled close, they were 226 for three. Amply blessed with patience and style, Wettimuny returned unbeaten on 116 on a day he could do no wrong even if he tried. Ranatunga remained unbeaten on 54.

To be continued tomorrow.

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“Crysbro Next Champ” join forces with NOC to empower young athletes

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Under the agreement, Crysbro will serve as the sponsor for 20 deserving athletes scouted by NOCSL, with potential to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games 2022, Asian Games 2022, Commonwealth Games 2022, and South Asian Games 2021.(Pic by Jude Denzil Pathiraja)

As part of its ongoing mission to empower and support the aspirations of young people in rural Sri Lanka, poultry producer Crysbro signed a landmark MOU with the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOCSL) to launch the ‘NOCSL-CRYSBRO Next Champ’ scholarship programme. The objective of this magnanimous partnership is to uplift talented young Sri Lankan athletes to the international sports arena.

Under the agreement, Crysbro will serve as the sponsor for 20 deserving athletes scouted by NOCSL, with potential to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games 2022, Asian Games 2022, Commonwealth Games 2022, and South Asian Games 2021.

Sri Lanka’s living athletic legend, Olympic medal winner, Susanthika Jayasinghe praised the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka for joining hands with Crysbro in this multimillion rupee sponsorship to empower and support deserving athletes from Sri Lanka’s rural settings.

“We are extremely honoured to join forces with the National Olympic Committee to unearth and groom the future torch bearers of Sri Lankan sports. While it is certainly rewarding to help these young athletes realize their aspirations of winning a medal at these games, our primary focus will be on supporting the journey, the strategy, and the holistic development of each athlete which involves a combination of physical, mental, and psychological training. However, at the core of this initiative, is a deep desire to elevate the experiences of many resilient Sri Lankan athletes in rural areas with big dreams but with very little financial backing to make them a reality,” Crysbro Senior Marketing Manager Amores Sellar said.

In addition, this partnership will see the launch of an online portal, which for the very first time in Sri Lanka will enable members of the public to financially sponsor rural athletes, school sports associations, and sports clubs and chambers. All funds collected through this portal will be fully disbursed to the entities they were contributed, a process carefully overlooked and strictly managed by NOCSL.

The scholarships will cover costs such as nutrition, transportation costs, coaching fees, accommodation, logistics such as clothing, sports gear, and medical expenses necessary for the training, grooming and development of each selected athlete. The programme will also give athletes access to a combination of high-value tools and world-class mentors, including foreign training exposures.

“Our partnership with Crysbro offers a unique opportunity for home grown athletes to succeed in the global arena. Over the course of two years, they will have access to numerous tools that will assuage the challenges they may face due to inherent financial and situational constraints, and flourish in a sustainable support system that identifies, nurtures, and maximizes their potential. We are excited to kick off this venture as one which would undoubtedly contribute greatly to furthering the Nation’s agenda for sports,” stated National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka, Secretary General, Maxwell De Silva.

The ‘NOCSL-CRYSBRO Next Champ’ scholarship programme is phase-II of Crysbro’s ‘Next Champ’ scholarship programme, which up to date has groomed and supported the dreams of 120 young athletes from the under-privileged regions of the country. The initiative has also successfully produced a collection of athletes who secured gold and silver medals at the recent South Asian Games in Nepal.

Crysbro Next Champ not only recognizes and rewards young sporting talent from all corners of the country, but also budding athletes from multiple sporting disciplines with guidance from experts on aspects such as proper training methods and a suitable diet. The project’s founding vision sought to bolster Crysbro’s already significant social contribution as a key pillar of the country’s rural economy plus creating sporting opportunities and promoting the message of staying physically and mentally active.

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Dean Jones – Sri Lanka’s friend indeed

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by Rex Clementine

The Aussies were in Galle for the first Test of the series in 2004 and Dean Jones joked in commentary. He said that it took him less than four hours from Singapore to Katunayake but five hours to get to Galle from Katunayake! He was driving home some pertinent points. Travel in Sri Lanka before the highway days was a nightmare. Sri Lanka Cricket did not raise objections with the television company that employed Jones nor did the Sports Ministry. His criticism was well taken by all and sundry. Jones didn’t mince any words. He was a bold critic. As The Island’s former Editor Mr. Gamini Weerakoon used to say, ‘A good journalist works with his resignation letter in the pocket.’

Jones was a huge fan of Sri Lanka. After the death of Tony Greig, he was an ideal ambassador to promote tourism and he did a splendid job. Some of his best moments in commentary came in Sri Lanka.

He earned the nickname of ‘Professor Deano’ for the pre-match show that he did during a triangular series in Dambulla. Jones was dressed as a Professor giving the pitch report and supporting him was up and coming actress Anarkali Akarsha, just 18-years-old. The show was a hit and fans took an immediate liking to both the ex-cricketer and budding actresses.

Not that his career was entirely smooth. During a Test match at P. Sara Oval in 2006, Ten Sports fired him while the day’s play was in progress for calling Hashim Amla a ‘terrorist’. Jones was off air but the microphone in the studio had picked his remark. He apologized immediately and was reinstated a few months later.

The fact that he was shortlisted to take over from Graham Ford in 2017 as the national cricket team’s Head Coach was a poorly kept secret by Sri Lanka Cricket. The Island asked him what would be the first thing he would do if he got the job. Jones said, ‘ban f***ing football during training.’ The Sri Lankan cricket team’s obsession to engage in a game of football as warm-up before a day’s play and training was frowned upon by many given the high number of injuries it was causing.

Jones was a fine batsman and in his generation only Viv Richards played one-day cricket better. A smart thinker of the game, it was Jones’ bright idea to run the extra run on the throw in the vast Australian grounds. He earned a reputation as an excellent runner between the wickets and when asked what was his secret, he replied, ‘just common sense.’ Soon, others followed the extra run on the throw theory while playing in Australia and it paid rich dividends.

His finest hour in the sport came in Test cricket though during the tied Madras Test in 1986. Jones made a double hundred and the scorching heat took a toll on him. He was vomiting and feeling uneasy but did not throw it away. At the end of his 210, Jones was hospitalized. Coach Bob Simpson said that it was the greatest innings played for Australia. His final Test match was played in Moratuwa in 1992.

Jones was in Bombay doing studio shows for host broadcaster on IPL games. The Island learns that he had gone for a run in the morning and was with former fast bowler Brett Lee when he suffered a severe heart attack in the seven star hotel lobby at lunch time. Lee desperately tried to save him with CPR after Jones collapsed but for no avail.

He was 59

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Medal prospect Tharushi laments absence of coach Susantha at Walala

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Olympic Committee announces sponsorships for future prospects

by Reemus Fernando

Ratnayake Central Walala athlete Tharushi Karunaratne said that the absence of reputed coach Susantha Fernando at the premier Sports School has made her train by herself. She said that she was following Fernando’s schedules in his absence in reply to a query by The Island at a function organized by the National Olympic Committee to announce Crysbro Next Champ sponsorships for up and coming athletes  at the Foundation Institute on Thursday.

Fernando gave up on training at Ratnayake Central after completing  more than two decades of committed service a couple of months back. During his tenure Fernando guided many a school athlete to reach international level.

Incidentally, Tharushi’s brother Harsha too graduated under Fernando to win a silver at the Asian Youth Athletics Championship in Thailand in 2017. Officials of Ratnayake Central have been trying in vain during the last few months to obtain Fernando’s services again. In his  absence training of Ratnayake Central athletes remain interrupted.

Tharushi produced several record breaking performances at Junior National competitions last year. Fernando had earmarked her as a junior international medal prospect. She had been rightly picked by a selecting committee inclusive of Olympic medalist Susanthika Jayasinghe, former sprinters Shehan Ambepitiya and Ineka Cooray and Olympian Reshika Udugampola for the Crysbro Next Champ sponsorship.

The Selection Committee tasked with selecting 20 athletes for the Crysbro sponsorship announced names of the first five chosen athletes yesterday. Sprinter Sithum Jayasundara who also hogged the limelight last year making a clean sweep of Under 16 sprint events is the other track and field athlete to have been picked for the lucrative sponsorship. Two young weight lifters, namely, W.DK. Kumara and R.S.R. Laksarani and gymnast Milka Gihani were the others named by the Committee.

Explaining the selection criteria Ambepitiya said the probable list of athletes had been forwarded by respective Sports Associations. Their performances had been analysed against the medal deciding  performances at three last junior international competitions before picking them.

They are in the process of finalizing the next five athletes. Their names will be announced shortly.

The next ten athletes will be selected after various sports associations conclude their national level competitions.

 

 

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