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After thorny run-in, Australia hope for smooth start to title defence

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In many ways, Australia’s preparation for their T20 title defence has felt like a contradiction. In all probability the XI that takes the field at the SCG on Saturday (weather permitting) will be the one that has appeared likely for quite some time, with Tim David replacing Steven Smith from the last T20 World Cup.

So while that projects a sense of a stability, there is a lot else that has been going on that would suggest a build-up that has been far from ideal. It has included managing injuries to key allrounders Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis, plus back-up bowlers Ashton Agar and Kane Richardson; a significant amount of travel, including a week-long trip to India; the debate around David Warner’s captaincy ban, which national selector George Bailey made no secret was becoming a frustratingly drawn-out affair, and the appointment of Pat Cummins as ODI captain along with the debate around one of Australia’s leading sponsors.

Most recently an old golf club snapped in Josh Inglis’ hand on the second hole at the La Perouse course in Sydney, badly cutting the wicketkeeper and ruling him out of the tournament. In itself it is not the most damaging injury the squad could have been dealt on the eve of the tournament – Inglis would not have been in the starting XI – but it left an unwanted conversation about who should be the replacement and its implications (Warner as wicketkeeper, perhaps?). Inglis was also a very versatile batting understudy.

On the field Australia would have been beaten 3-0 by England if it wasn’t for rain in Canberra, after which Aaron Finch made comments about fatigue in the squad after the lengthy build-up. A number of players have felt they have had matches they didn’t need, but then on the other hand there have been one or two lingering form questions, although Finch made timely runs against India at the Gabba.Glenn Maxwell remains the one who has yet to put in a significant contribution with the bat this season – although he, too, looked to be getting going against India – but he is being backed to come good when it really matters.

“I think it looks a lot different on the inside than it does on the outside,” head coach Andrew McDonald said of the build-up. “We have a task at hand and that’s to get the players ready for the first game.

“Probably the thing that’s consumed us the most has been injured players returning and you’ve seen in the lead-up that we’ve had to not take certain players to certain fixtures because of the risks of injury, so that’s been our big discussion to get the eleven players who will play that first game to the start line. The medical team has done a fantastic job. So we’ve had our own, probably internal, battles as opposed to what’s been happening on the outside.”

The injury concerns over Marsh (ankle) and Stoinis (side) were the most critical to Australia’s build-up given their overs are vital to balance the side since it moved to seven batters and four bowlers. McDonald conceded losing one or both of the allrounders “was real” for a period of time over recent weeks, which led to their extended use of Cameron Green at the top of the order after his success in India, in turn leading to the unusual sight of Finch batting in the middle. In the end Green has found his way into the squad, but as Inglis’ replacement.

Marsh may still not be right to bowl in the opening game against New Zealand and there are lingering concerns over Stoinis being able to back up in a tight schedule, particularly when travel is included – Australia, as hosts, play each group game at a different venue. In the balance of their side, Maxwell becomes as important for his bowling as his batting.

Yet, despite all of that, if Australia can put their expected XI on the park, it looks very strong. David has brought more power and finishing ability to the middle order, Warner has played some sparkling innings leading into the tournament, Marsh still looks at home at No.3, Matthew Wade has had a prolific 12 months as a finisher, and it’s hard to pick holes in the four frontline bowlers with Adam Zampa and Josh Hazlewood particularly dominant in the format.

The big selection call has been to move Smith aside from the first-choice XI, although McDonald reiterated there could be a role for him during the tournament. While Smith has shed the ‘Mr Fix-It’ tag, there is still the question of how Australia respond if they are in early trouble against the new ball, but McDonald was confident others could do that role.

“The term ‘hitters’, those players have a few extra layers than just being able to hit the ball over the ropes,” he said. “They do have some power but they do have some craft as well.”

All this does not mention the opposition themselves on Saturday, the well-drilled New Zealand side who were the other finalists last year and have a terrific record in global events. However, there is a thought that they are side that has, perhaps, passed its peak while they have not beaten Australia in any format in their country since 2011. The hosts are probably not too disappointed to be starting against them.After a long build-up that has not all been smooth, it is what happens at the SCG that matters. The prospect of rain and a shortened game brings further jeopardy. No men’s team has yet to defend the T20 World Cup and there is very little room for a mistake.

(Cricinfo)



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Elena Rybakina beats Victoria Azarenka to reach final of Australian Open 2023

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Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina reached another major final as she beat two-time winner Victoria Azarenka in the Australian Open semi-finals.Rybakina, 23, won 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 to end Azarenka’s hopes of winning the title 10 years after her last triumph.

The Kazakh regained her composure in a nervy end to the first set before confidently dominating the second.She will play either Belarusian fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka or unseeded Pole Magda Linette in Saturday’s final.

The pair followed Rybakina and Azarenka – who is also from Belarus – on to court in Thursday’s second semi-final at Melbourne Park.

“I’m super happy to be in the final and play one more time here,” said 22nd seed Rybakina, who will contest her second major final.

“It was different conditions, I couldn’t play aggressive tennis and couldn’t go so much for my shots but I was happy to win.

“I got a lot of experience from Wimbledon and I want to come on court for the final and enjoy the moment.”

Rybakina has been one of the most unheralded Wimbledon champions in recent history as a result of her low profile and a lower-than-expected ranking caused by points not being awarded at the All England Club last year.

At Melbourne Park, the tall Kazakh has been reminding people once again of her outstanding talent.At the US Open last year, Rybakina said she did not “feel like” a major winner because she was ranked outside of the world’s top 20 after points were stripped because of Wimbledon banning Russian and Belarusian players.

Rybakina was also stuck on a small outside court for her Australian Open first-round match – although she insisted she “did not care” – but since then there has been no escaping the threat she posed in the draw.

She was responsible for knocking out world number Iga Swiatek in the last 16, either side of other notable wins against 2022 runner-up Danielle Collins and 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.Big serving has been one of the keys to her success and it teed up what many expected to be a fascinating contest against 33-year-old Azarenka, whose returning game has been a key to her success.

Rybakina laid down a marker in the first game of the match with three aces and produced another comfortable hold before 24th seed Azarenka – absorbing her opponent’s power which helped her switch defence into attack – broke for 3-2.

An instant reply swung the momentum back to Rybakina but, as she tried to serve out the set at 5-3, her first-serve percentage suddenly plummeted.That enabled Azarenka to fight back to 5-5 and earn three break points in the 11th game, only for Rybakina to regain her composure to hold and giving her the confidence to take control of the tie-break.

Azarenka was not helped by several costly errors and they continued in the second set as Rybakina imposed herself with two breaks for a 5-2 lead.

While she could not serve out the match, Rybakina sealed victory with another break and – rather fittingly – produced a low-key celebration as she ended the prospect of an-all Belarusian final.

(BBC Sports)

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Savinka, Rashmi win U-19 singles titles

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Under 19 boys’ runner up Jason Homer(left) and champion Savinaka Weerasekara.

38th National Junior Badminton Championships

Savinaka Weerasekera of D.S. Senanayake College and Rashmi Mudalige of Gateway International School emerged Under-19 boys’ and girls’ champions respectively while Pulina Wellalage of St. Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa clinched a triple crown at the 38th National Junior Badminton Championships held in Colombo.

At the annual event conducted by Sri Lanka Badminton in association with Sri Lanka Schools Badminton Association, Weerasekera defeated Jason Homer of the Royal Institute International School 21-11, 21-11 in the Under-19 boys’ singles final at the Sugathadasa Indoor Sports Complex.

Weerasekera then teamed up with Homer to beat Ashinsa Herath and Vidusha Sumanadasa of Royal College 21-18, 21-16 to win the doubles title in the same age group.

In the Under-19 girls’ singles final, Rashmi Mudalige beat Ondi Sethuki (Southland’s College, Galle) 16-21, 21-14, 21-14.

Mudalige also secured her second title when she teamed up with young badminton sensation Wellalage to defeat Shenuk Samararatne and Sithuki Onadee 17-21, 21-19, 21-19 and win the U-19 mixed doubles final.

In the U-19 girls’ doubles final, Thisuni Liyanarachchi and Lawandi Umagiliyage of Sangamitta College, Galle, denied Mudalige a third title when they defeated the latter and her Gateway College partner Natasha Gunasekara 21-15, 21-18 in the final.

Meanwhile, Wellalage, the younger brother of national cricketer Dunith, beat Thilina Rajakaruna in straight sets (21-10, 21-16) to win the U-17 boys’ singles title, his second in the Championships.

Wellalage’s Triple Crown was completed when he and partner Shenuk Samararatne defeated Sanjula Handapangoda and Thilina Rajakaruna 21-13, 18-21, 25-23 in an all-Sebastianites Boys’ U-17 doubles final.

Meanwhile, the young national shuttle sensation Ranithma Liyanage of the Christ Church College, Baddegama, who later went on to be crowned national Champion, defeated her Girls’ U-17 singles opponent Ranumi Manage (Musaeus College) in the final with ease (21-2, 21-13).

The presentation ceremony was held with Director General of Sports Development, Amal Edirisuriya as the chief guest in the presence of Sri Lanka Badminton President Rohan de Silva, SLB officials and former players.

Winners and Runners-up

Under 11 Boys Singles

Champion –

Prithish Abeygunawardena (Richmond), Runner-up – Nesandu Hapukotuwa (Dharmaraja)

Under 11 Girls Singles

Champion –

Gajali Padmabandara (St. Anthony’s Girls, Katugastota), Second Runner-up – Sanumi Metsara (Musaeus)

Under 13 Boys Singles

Champion

– Hasandu Fernando (St Sebastian’s, Moratuwa), Runner-up – Amawan Amarasinghe (Panadura Lyceum)

Under 13 Girls Singles

Champion –

Fatima Amani (Hill Country Girls, Kandy), Runner-up – Thenuki De Silva (Siridhamma College)

Under 13 Boys Doubles

Champions –

Duvindu Edirisinghe/ Satsara Pubudu (St. Sebastian’s, Moratuwa), Runners-up – Tenuja Galahitiawa/ Satish Avishka (St. Anthony’s, Katugastota)

Under 13 Girls Doubles

Champions –

Fatima Amani/ Netsara Yenuri (Hill Country Girls/ Sujatha Girls, Nugegoda), Runners-up – Inuki Bandara/ Divyadharani Dayaratne (Musaeus/ Lyceum, Wattala)

Under 15 Boys Singles

Champion –

Tejana Herath (St. Anthony’s Katugastota), Runner-up – Senut Sethmina (Ananda College)

Under 15 Girls Singles

Champion

– Viswani Vanniarachchi (Gateway International), Runner-up – Lakshya Sajeevakumar (Lyceum Wattala)

Under 15 Boys Doubles

Champions –

Janeesha De Silva/ Mihila Jayaweera (St. Joseph’s/ Wattala Lyceum), Runners-up – Akash Shamal/ Tejana Herath (St. Anthony’s Katugastota)

Under 15 Girls Doubles

Champions –

Sanuti Gurusinghe/ Pavani Ileperuma (Sanghamitta Galle), Runners-up – Dihini Mendis/ Lakshya Sajeevakumar (Southland Galle/ Wattala Lyceum)

Under 17 Boys Singles

Under 19 girls’ champion Rashmi Mudalige (left) and runner up Sithuki Onadee.

Champion –

Pulina Wellalage (St. Sebastian’s Moratuwa), Runner-up – Thilina Rajakaruna (St. Sebastian’s, Moratuwa)

Under 17 Girls Singles

Champion –

Ranithma Liyanage (Christ Church Girls, Baddegama), Runner-up – Ranumi Manage (Musaeus)

Under 17 Boys Doubles

Champions –

Pulina Wellalage/ Shenuk Samararatne (St. Sebastian’s, Moratuwa), Runners-up – Sanjula Handapangoda/ Thilina Rajakaruna (St. Sebastian’s, Moratuwa)

Under 17 Girls Doubles

Champions –

L.A. Dinethya/ Devmi Ubesirivardhana (Sujatha Balika, Matara), Runners-up – Dilini Ambalangodage/ H.G. Sandani (Anula College/ Sujatha College Matara)

Under 19 Boys Singles

Champion –

Savinaka Veerasekera (D.S. Senanayake), Runner-up – Jason Homer (Royal Institute)

Under 19 Girls Singles

Champion –

Rashmi Mudalige (Gateway), Runner-up – Ondi Sethuki (Southlands, Galle)

Under 19 Boys Doubles

Champions –

Jason Homer/Savinaka Weerasekera (Royal Institute/ DS. Senanayake), Runners-up -Ashinsa Herath/ Vidusha Sumanadasa (Royal)

Under 19 Girls Doubles

Champions –

Tisuni Liyanarachchi/ Lavandi Umagaliyage (Sanghamitta, Galle), Runners-up – Natasha Gunasekara/ Rashmi Mudalige (Gateway)

Under 19 Mixed Doubles

Champions –

Pulina Vellalage/Rashmi Mudalige (St. Sebastian’s, Moratuwa/Gateway), Runner-up – Shenuk Samararatne/ Situki Onadi (St. Sebastian’s, Moratuwa/ Sujata Vidyalaya Matara)

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Wanindu only SL player in ICC’s teams of the year

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Wanindu Hasaranga

Wanindu Hasaranga, who took more wickets than anybody at the Men’s T20 World Cup, is the only Sri Lanka male player selected in any of the ICC’s teams of the year announced on Tuesday.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) completed announcements of the ICC Teams of the Year, a feature of the ICC Awards 2022 which captures the best-combined XIs across the different formats of men’s and women’s international cricket after an action-packed year of competition.

Two days of staggered announcements have seen five lineups revealed; the ICC Men’s and Women’s T20I Teams of the Year, the ICC Men’s and Women’s ODI Teams of the Year and the ICC Men’s Test Team of the Year. In total, 11 countries are represented across the various lineups, which feature a number of World Cup winners, ICC Players of the Month and some of the most exciting emerging talents from the past calendar year.

Teams were identified from selections submitted by the specialist panel of media representatives that make up the ICC Voting Academy. The esteemed panel made their selections based on player performances throughout the calendar year, nominating their one to 11 and choosing a captain and a wicketkeeper for each.

Wanindu is selected in the ICC Men’s T20I Team of the Year which includes three Indian players. The others in the team are Jos Buttler (captain -Eng), Mohammad Rizwan (Pak), Virat Kohli (Ind), Suryakumar Yadav (Ind), Glenn Phillips (NZ), Sikandar Raza (Zim), Hardik Pandya (Ind), Sam Curran (Eng), Wanindu Hasaranga (SL), Haris Rauf (Pak) and Josh Little (Ire).

In the women’s category, Inoka Ranaweera has been selected in the ICC Women’s T20I Team of the Year.

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