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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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Devapathiraja stun Isipatana, Mahinda oust St. Joseph Vaz’s

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Under-19 Cricket

by Reemus Fernando

Devapathiraja secured their first ever semi-final place in an Under-19 Division I tournament with a six wicket victory over Isipatana and Mahinda cruised to the semis with a crushing 131 runs victory over St. Joseph Vaz’s in the Tier ‘B’ quarter-finals played on Thursday.

An unbroken 94 run stand for the fifth wicket between Jeewaka Shasheen (56n.o.) and Sudeera Weerarathna (31n.o.) helped Devapathiraja turn tables on Isipatana as they recovered from 58 for four wickets at one stage to seal their semi-final place with six wickets to spare.

Mahinda posted 252 runs in 43 overs thanks to a quick fire half century by Dhanuja Induwara, who hammered 73 runs (in 32 balls) inclusive of six sixes and six fours. St. Joseph Vaz’s were shout out for 121 runs as Kushan Madusha , Navod Paranavithana, Subanu Rajapaksha and Kavidu Lakshan shared bowling honours.

Mahinda will now meet Ananda in the semi-final, while Devapathiraja take on Dharmasoka.

Results

Division I Tier ‘B’

Mahinda beat St. Joseph Vaz’s by 131 runs at Moratuwa

Mahinda

252 for 8 in 43 overs (Navod Paranavithana 62, Subanu Rajapaksha 62, Dhanuja Induwara 73; Kaushan Wijerartne 2/28)

St. Joseph Vaz’s

121 all out in 38.2 overs (Chamath Fernando 18; Kushan Madusha 2/25, Navod Paranavithana 2/23, Subanu Rajapaksha 2/11, Kavidu Lakshan 2/08)

Devapathiraja beat Isipatana by six wickets at DSS ground

Isipatana

151 all out in 39.5 overs (Tharusha Nethsara 31, Naveen Kanishka 23, Themiya Gunaratne 18; Sasanka Nirmal 2/21, Sudeera Weeraratne 2/24, Irushka Thimira 3/28)

Devapathiraja

152 for 4 in 43.2 overs (Irushka Thimira 32, Jeewaka Shasheen 56n.o., Sudeera Weerarathna 31n.o., Thevindu Dickwella 4/28)

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Daunting task ahead after Bangladesh pile up runs

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Rex Clementine at Pallekele

Twenty years ago, Test matches against Bangladesh were a cakewalk for Sri Lanka. There was a game at SSC where Marvan Atapattu scored  a double hundred and retired followed by Mahela Jayawardene who retired on 150. Sanath Jayasuriya was least bothered smashing 89 off 59 balls with 11 fours and four sixes. The entire Bangladesh team managed one run more than Jayasuriya in their first innings. Now the roles are reversed. Bangladesh seem to be giving the Sri Lankans a taste of their own medicine. Has Bangladesh cricket really improved or has Sri Lankan cricket become so bad?

You can not say that Bangladesh cricket is on a high. They lost a recent Test series to West Indies at home and last year lost to Afghanistan. Some 90 percent of their wins in Test cricket have been against Zimbabwe. So why is Sri Lanka playing catch up in this game is an interesting question. The answers will be known by stumps on day three when Sri Lanka get a chance to bat.

It was a remarkable effort by the tourists who are without their main match winner Shakib Al Hasan and their lead bowler Mustafizur Rahman, both of them are at IPL.

Bangladesh finished day two on 474 for four after resuming on 302 for two with Mominul Haque and Najmul Shanto posting big hundreds. The pair shared a record 242 run stand, a new record for Bangladesh in Test match cricket. It’s also a joint record at Pallekele for the third wicket with Younis Khan and Shan Masood posting 242 runs six years ago.

Sri Lanka’s  bowling lacked venom as no wickets fell in the morning session. Lahiru Kumara provided the breakthrough when he took a return catch to dismiss Shanto. The left-hander who posted his maiden Test hundred on Wednesday finished on 163 having batted for seven minutes short of nine hours. He faced 378 deliveries and hit 17 fours and a six. Niroshan Dickwella’s dropped catch early on in his innings proved to be costly.

For Mominul it was his 11th Test hundred and the first overseas. He was dismissed when he edged part-timer Dhananjaya de Silva to Lahiru Thirimanne at first slip.

The scoreboard doesn’t look good for Sri Lankans but their bowlers did a decent job to stop the run flow on day two having sent down too many loose balls on day one. Suranga Lakmal in particular was impressive bowling some tight spells. He was unlucky and needed more backing from others.

Play was called off early due to bad light and 25 overs were not bowled. The game will resume today 15 minutes early.

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May the educated continue to run cricket!

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by Rex Clementine

While the Test series  involving Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is on at Pallekele in a bio-secure bubble, the media has been allowed to cover the series in what is called the  ‘outer bubble’. The press can file their stories from the press box and carry on with their day today activities. The only thing that we can not do is to come face to face with players and support staff.

Sri Lanka Cricket is at the moment run by a respected doctor – Professor Arjuna de Silva. Apart from being a brilliant physician, he is proving to be an outstanding administrator as well. Glad he does not wish to avoid the press like the plague in these testing times.

The press discussed a similar method during the England series, but it fell on deaf ears of those who were running the sport at that time. Leave alone giving us a fair hearing, it took SLC more than a week to respond to our collective mail.

Then there were lies all around.  SLC first said that it was impossible to accommodate the press as the England and Wales Cricket Board had objected to our presence. We referred the matter to the ECB, who denied it outright saying that they had no issues with press covering the series. Then there were more lies, even misguiding the Minister of Sports.

The same SLC Executive Committee a few weeks either side of the England series had requested the media to cover their press briefings and they were well attended. But cricket matches for some mysterious reasons were out of bounds for us. Obviously, SLC hierarchy were getting advice from the wrong people.

South Africa, Australia, England, Pakistan and even India where COVID cases are at a staggering high had allowed the media to attend cricket matches but SLC was an exception. Did they have an axe to grind with the press for constantly highlighting daylight robbery at Maitland Place?

There was a storm of protest at the treatment meted out to the media. Former players, administrators and fans expressed their disappointment at what was happening but SLC bosses were thick skinned. Its President boasted that he was going to get more than 100 votes at the AGM. He was all too powerful. But the law of the land proved to be more powerful than him as the entire Executive Committee was dismissed on technical grounds. The CEO continues, although his time is hanging by a thread.

Further woes followed at the COPE hearing as the Parliamentary watchdog found large scale corruption and no accountability. The Secretary to the Sports Ministry was informed to initiate legal proceedings against officials who were responsible for corrupt deals that included money that broadcasting partners owed the board being transferred into offshore accounts.

It remains to be seen what action the Sports Ministry intends to take with the game suffering several blows both on and off the field in the last five years. The slide started during the Yahapalana regime and not much has been done to address the woes under the present government. The Sports Minister backdating a letter legalizing the term of the Executive Committee was the last straw. The move was opposed and the Minister was forced to dismiss the Executive Committee and bring in fresh faces amidst much criticism.

The same Ex Co did not bother to take disciplinary action against misbehaving players. This coupled with poor on field performances saw cricket’s ardent fans turning away from the game. While the national cricket team was involved in a series in the Caribbean, the retired players were featuring in a Legends tournament in India. Strangely, the fans preferred to watch the former players in action than their national team. This was extremely disturbing news.

Soon after the administration was changed, a clear message has been sent that misconduct will be sternly dealt with. An opening batsman who had got into constant trouble was hauled up for an inquiry on Tuesday and has been warned to behave or pack his bags. This is the way forward. When there is discipline, results will follow automatically.

The elected officials who were in power before that had double standards. For example, captain Dimuth Karunaratne who was involved in a late night accident was fined Rs. one million. This was despite him buying a brand new three wheeler to the other party involved in the accident. Kusal Mendis who was involved in a hit and run was treated with kids’ gloves. The board closed the case claiming it was a personal matter. That a poor man on his way to work was killed wasn’t a serious enough issue for them. That was not on.

Thankfully, the attitude of the administration has changed now. The powers that be need to ensure that the educated run cricket. Let the corrupt rot in jail.

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