by Rajitha Ratwatte
47,000 plus fans at Auckland Eden Park for Aaron Smith’s 100 appearance for the All Blacks in the first of 3 Bledisloe Cup games against Australia. A greasy ball and not-so-dry conditions underfoot. Most of the first half was a penalty shoot-out as the All Blacks chose to score through the boot of Ritchie Mo’uanga whenever they got into range. The Wallabies retaliated but sadly missed the services of a reliable placekicker. In fact, the entire game would have had a different result if the Aussies had been able to convert the many penalties awarded to them and slot their kicks at goal. The inclusion of Damian Mackenzie at no15 was not to take the kicks as assumed. Mo’uanga still missed a few kicks from far left of the field and converted some beauties especially from long distance but D’Mac’s real role seemed to be at first receiver off the break downs with Mo’uanga occupying more attacking positions in the backline. The first half was meandering (an Aussie tactic seemed to be to slow the game down) its way to a 9 – 8 score until a good bit of on-field thinking by Sam Whitelock called for a kick to touch instead of taking another kickable penalty. The Blacks were able to score off the resulting line out. Half-time score reading 16 – 8 to the New Zealanders.
Ritchie Mo’uanga who was lurking on the wing, intercepted a long pass by the Wallabies and ran 80 meters to score under the posts showing his class and absolute superiority to anyone else who wears the no10 jersey these days. Shortly thereafter Reiko Ioane made an incisive run, threw a wild pass as is his penchant (and a reason why he is not in the centers) which was collected brilliantly by Aaron Smith who then passed to his skipper Whitelock who activated his three-quarters for a try which was disallowed by the TMO for what was deemed to be a forward pass from Smith to Whitelock. This non-try was the highlight of the game, and the pass was marginal if at all. Points denied, but wonderful spectator entertainment all the same. There was a similar pass during an Aussie try which drew no action from the TMO. Selective involvement from the TMO and the fact that the conversation between the TMO and the on-field referee is broadcast live is something that must be looked at very closely. The current situation leaves the on-field referee who is the person best able to make these calls unable to have his say on marginal decisions.
At this stage, the All Blacks were threatening to run away with the game, but the Aussies were not finished! Some great tactics using long throws and throws to the front of the line out caught the Blacks napping on occasion. There was also a three-quarter move involving a close formation and some quick passing that created a hole in the Black defence. Students of the game may wish to have a closer look at that, undoubtedly signs of some good thinking from the Aussie coaching staff. The All-Black forwards were not getting involved enough at the breakdowns and one wondered if their on-field leadership failed to take the greasy conditions underfoot into account. If they had played the game with more emphasis on the forwards, they may have made a bigger impression on the scoreline. They definitely gave away far too many penalties as they were found offside almost on every occasion that the line came up in defence inside All Black territory.
The Aussies scored twice in the closing stages of the game. All in all, four tries to each side with the Wallaby full back Tom Banks getting two possibly to compensate for the lack of distance of his touch finders. The final score 33 -25. It should be emphasised once again that if the Wallabies had a decent placekicker, they may have changed the result of the game! New Zealand’s tries came through Seevu Reece, Ritchie Mo’uanga, David Havili, and Damian Mackenzie. The All-Black bench did not make the expected impact and in fact, the winning margin was reduced after the substitutions happened. Beauden Barret had a forgettable game with a bad decision resulting in a clearance kick being charged down possible resulting in one of the last-minute Aussie tries. The Ritchie Mo’uanga – Aaron Smith combination as well as their individual brilliance remains unchallenged for superiority in today’s game. No bench player can better that. However, the non-involvement of forwards at the breakdown, particularly in wet and muddy conditions leaves this writer wondering if Rugby Union is looking more and more like Rugby League and if there is room for two such similar codes in the minds of spectators. Or is this the new face of Rugby Union and are we old school thinkers being too conservative?
Gateway felicitates coach for making Sri Lanka proud
Pradeep Nishantha, Assistant Head of Sports of Gateway College Colombo was felicitated by the school for his remarkable contribution in producing two medal winners at the recently concluded Paralympic Games in Japan.
The national anthem was played for the very first time at an Olympics when Dinesh Priyantha Herath who was trained by Pradeep Nishantha won a gold medal with a new world record. Pradeep has been employed at Gateway since 2005 and he has been responsible for producing many national athletes from Gateway.
Gateway students are blessed to be coached and guided by professionals of the highest caliber. Thilaka Jinadasa, the Team Leader – Sports development for the entire group represented Sri Lanka in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.
Among Gateway’s team of coaches are a number of top Sri Lankan coaches. Tharindu Fernando, who was recently appointed National Basketball Coach for the Under 23 Sri Lankan side is among them.
Dialog and SLC release T20 World Cup song ‘Ape Kollo’
The national cricket team’s sponsor and Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider, Dialog Axiata, together with Sri Lanka Cricket, recently released ‘Ape Kollo’ the T20 World Cup song in support of the Team on their T20 World Cup campaign which will commence on the 18th of October 2021 in the United Arab Emirates.
The song will be sung by a stellar line-up of artistes and Dialog brand ambassadors including, Bathiya and Santhush, Umaria, Yohani, Sanka Dineth, Sajitha, Sanuka, Madhuvy and guest performer, Roy Jackson. With lyrics written by Triad, the Sri Lanka Cricket T20 World Cup song is an initiative powered by Dialog Axiata connecting the wishes of every Sri Lankan.
Dr. Jayantha Dharmadasa, Vice President of Sri Lanka Cricket said, “I would like to thank Dialog Axiata for materializing the T20 World Cup song into existence. This tribute will be an immense morale boost for players and fans alike. The team over the past few months have been playing tourneys and trial games which have been instrumental in selecting the best combination for the T20 World Cup in UAE.”
Sri Lanka will qualify, but can they reach semis?
by Rex Clementine
The cricket fans of Sri Lanka are truly amazing. They know pretty well that the chances of the team reaching the semi-finals in UAE is as low as that of Maithripala Sirisena winning a future Presidential election, but they keep believing that their team will deliver. It is only fair that the players come up with a decent show, unlike Maithripala.
If the IPL is any indication, there aren’t going to be too many high scoring games over the next four weeks and spin is going to play a huge part. That will certainly be a good indication for Sri Lanka’s bowlers.
Their batsmen, however, it remains to be seen what lessons they have learnt on sweeping. Grant Flower seemed to be having little tricks up his sleeve on the advantage of the sweep, both the conventional, paddle and reverse. Hopefully, now that Sri Lanka have a fine sweeper in their coaching staff in Mahela Jayawardene, the issue has been discussed at length.
Lack of smart options against spin has been one reason for Sri Lanka’s decline in the shorter formats of the game. Ours was a team where the sweep was the batsmen’s bread and butter and it’s quite perplexing how the current lot have forgotten to sweep and the coaching staff have failed to address the issue.
Avishka Fernando has been tremendous to watch. He has always been an exciting player and such a shame that he failed a fitness test in January and was banished from the team hotel. He was so close to making his Test debut against England and failing the fitness test was a bitter pill to swallow. But glad that the selectors and the coaching staff had the conviction to do it. They have spared the rod and spoilt too many young children. Avishka has bounced back; leaner, fitter, stronger and hungrier. IPL teams will be watching and the gut feeling is we are talking of a future billionaire in this space.
There is some school of thought that Avishka should bat at number four. He has come up with some consistent performances in that position this week. It’s true that he is Aravinda’s heir apparent, but Sri Lanka has to make the most of the Power Plays and Avishka should open batting with Kusal Perera to make most of the field restrictions. You sense that you have enough fire power in Dasun Shanaka, Wanindu Hasaranga and Chamika Karunaratne to take care of the death overs.
Oppositions will focus a lot on Hasaranga’s leg spin as he has had quite a bit of success in the lasts 12 months and ended up earning a contract in the IPL. World Cup is a superb occasion for him to stamp his authority as one of world’s leading wrist spinners.
Maheesh Theekshana, the new kid, has a bit of surprise element in him and could trouble teams that have not seen him much as he proved during his debut against Proteas last month. It will be interesting to see how teams that do not play spin that well handle him.
The last minute decision to include Akila Dananjaya while axing Praveena Jayawickrama hasn’t gone down too well with some supporters. But it’s a smart move. There’s no denying of the fact that Akila has looked a pale shadow of his former self since remodeling his action and in recent months has looked awful. But then, Sri Lanka have to qualify. The team is thin on experience after our selectors chased away half a dozen seniors and Akila has a surprise element about him and that could come in handy; particularly in the qualifying round.
The spin trio is not Sri Lanka’s only strength. Their main weapon is pace with Dushmantha Chameera picking up wickets with the new ball consistently and he will be their key weapon. Such a shame that the team will miss the services of Nuwan Pradeep, a clever bowler in death overs.
All hope is not lost for Sri Lanka though. One good thing is that they are not playing any Asian teams. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are all in Group ‘B’. Sri Lanka will have Australia, England, West Indies, South Africa and one more qualifier and if their spin fires, they could spring a few surprises. Can they go onto book a semi-final berth?
In T-20 cricket anything can happen. So don’t just rule out the Sri Lankan team. The same can be said of our voters. Don’t rule out Maithripala.
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