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Amalka, Ananda guiding lights of country’s netball stronghold



Amalka Gunathilaka and Ananda Wannithilaka have been providing a yeoman service to country’s netball propelling Holy Family Convent Kurunegala to become the schools netball stronghold.(File Pix by Nishan S. Priyantha)

When satisfaction is the only reward for commitment

by Reemus Fernando

No school in the country has dominated schools netball like the way teams of Holy Family Convent, Kurunegala have done during the last one and half decades. The name of Holy Family Convent, Kurunegala has been so synonymous with the All Island Schools Netball Championships and the Milo Schools Championship titles to such an extent that one cannot remember a single year when they had settled for a trophy lower than the runner up title during the last decade.

Schools like Kalutara Balika, Musaeus, Girls High School, Kandy have challenged them to win age category titles but when it comes to overall championships, there had hardly been another contender. Like the trophies to the souvenir cupboard of the girls’ school of Kurunegala, there had also been a steady supply of talent to the youth national and national teams from this school during the last decade.

However the netball dominance HFC is experiencing today is a far cry from the early 2000s. HFC were not even a formidable force at Provincial level when Amalka Gunathilaka commenced training the youngsters.

Maliyadeva Balika and Kalutara Balika were the only schools to have won championship titles until HFC emerged as a force to be reckoned in the field of netball under her stewardship.

HFC became the Under-12 Milo Schools Netball champions in 2005, a year after she joined the school as a PTI. From then on the school went from strength to strength.

Few years after Gunathilaka took coaching reigns, HFC became unbeatable at almost all age category competitions at national level.

Certainly it was not the regular working hours of a PTI that propelled the school to be crowned as Sri Lanka’s netball queens.

“I would come early in the morning to commence training. Then I attend to regular teaching. When I leave the school after training it is very late in the afternoon. When competitions are around the corner I leave the school very late,” says Amalka whose commitment and contribution to netball in the country is yet to receive due recognition.

Beside Amalka her husband Ananda Wannithilaka, the former national volleyball player and coach provides much needed guidance in strength and conditioning to the team. The commitment of this husband and wife duo has gone a long way in HFC becoming the netball stronghold of the country.

However despite helping the team produce remarkable feats, Amalka is yet to be given a proper national job which she craved for years.

“First when I applied for the coaching job in 2011 I was told that I could not get it since my daughter was in the squad. Then I applied in 2013, 2015 and 2018. They would cite different reasons. And would select someone who has only paper qualifications but has never had performances to produce. I always had performances. I am a qualified coach. I did the advance course as well. I was informed that I had passed it. But I am yet to receive the certificate from the federation,” says Amalka.

While Dulangi Wannithilaka (her daughter), Rathna Victoria and Methma Jayaratne are some of her products who excelled at senior level, there are numerous others from Sajini Ratnayake, Sethmi Danoshi, Suseema Kumari, Nelumi Hapuarachchi to Nirmani Perera, who had donned the junior national jersey for Sri Lanka.

She got a couple of rare breaks when she was selected to accompany the team to World Youth Cup in Gaborone, Botswana in 2017 as assistant coach to Janaki Gunasekara and was named coach of the Under-16 team last year for the inaugural Under-16 South Asian Netball Championship in Nepal where she spent her own funds to function as the coach. Sri Lanka won the championship comfortably.

Amalka believes that the entire selection process not only of coaches but also of players needs to be overhauled with provincial level selectors making available the outstation talent for national consideration.

With the sport suffering a huge setback due to the Covid-19 pandemic and training at junior level in disarray, Amalka is interested in the junior national coaching job which she once cherished so much.

“At the moment I very much cherish what I do. I am content that I and my husband were able to make our contribution to netball. Each year the players we produce are ranked among the best at junior level. Netball has become an added advantage for those who join private sector firms after leaving school and those who seek higher education. We gain immense satisfaction when we see them succeed in different walks of life.”

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Will Smeed hits the Hundred’s first hundred to get Birmingham Phoenix off the mark



Will Smeed hit the first hundred in the Hundred as Birmingham Phoenix thrashed reigning champions Southern Brave by 53 runs in a sun-soaked Second City.On NHS Heroes Night at Edgbaston, with NHS workers and support staff invited along as a thank you for their brilliant work, a 14,000 crowd was royally entertained as Smeed socked an unbeaten 101 off 50 balls to lift his side to 176 for 4.Brave replied with a paltry 123 all out as Henry Brookes enjoyed a dream debut on the ground he has always called home. The Edgbaston product took 5 for 25 and two excellent catches in the outfield as Phoenix banked their first victory of the campaign and handed James Vince’s side their first defeat in nine matches.

After Phoenix were put in, they leaned heavily on Smeed after Chris Benjamin, promoted to open, and Moeen Ali each raced to 17 but then perished. Benjamin sent up a skier off Marcus Stoinis before Moeen, having lifted George Garton deep into the crowd at midwicket, chopped James Fuller’s first ball on to his stumps.Smeed galloped to a 25-ball half-century, reached with six over long off off Jake Lintott in a stand of 80 in 44 balls with Liam Livingstone. Livingstone was the top six-hitter in last year’s Hundred, but this time never really hit his stride, scoring just two from his first seven balls and 21 from 20 before lifting Lintott to extra cover.

Into the last ten balls, the big question was whether Smeed could complete his first professional hundred. He needed five runs from the last three, and a four and a two took him to the landmark from 49 balls.Phoenix set about defending their total with an increasingly depleted seam attack, Adam Milne (Achilles) having joined Matt Fisher, Chris Woakes and Olly Stone on the absentee list. But Kane Richardson soon stepped up, bowling Vince with his first ball after the Brave captain had smote Moeen for 16 in three balls in the first set.

Richardson conceded just a single from his first five balls and Phoenix struck again when Stoinis was brilliantly caught by Brookes at short fine leg off Tom Helm.Brookes followed that up in sensational style by striking with his second, tenth, 13th, 15th and 17th balls. Quinton de Kock sent back a return catch, Tim David lifted to deep square leg, Alex Davies was bowled through an attempted scoop and Fuller and Garton were pinned lbw. Who needs Milne, Fisher, Woakes and Stone?

Brookes hadn’t quite finished. At 108 for 7, Brave’s one sliver of remaining hope lay in some pyrotechnics from the big-hitting Ross Whiteley, but when he hoiked Benny Howell to long leg who was waiting underneath the ball? Brookes made no mistake and Phoenix closed out a victory which owed everything to the precocious talent of two young Englishmen.Birmingham Phoenix 176 for 4 (Will Smeed 101*) beat Southern Brave 123 (Alex Davies 33, Henry Brookes 5-25, Kane Richardson 3-19) by 53 runs

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Niroshan Dickwella stars in Greens 8-run win over Reds



Opening batsman Niroshan Dickwella hammered an unbeaten 76 off 56 balls packed with 8 boundaries as Team Greens defeated Team Reds by 8 runs to register back to back wins in the SLC Skyexchange Invitational T20 League 2022 at the R. Premadasa International Stadium yesterday. Batting first the Greens ran up 161 for 6 off 20 overs with Dickwella dominating the innings. Skipper Dasun Shanaka struck 21 off 12 hitting 3 boundaries before getting run out followed by Dhananjaya de Silva 19 off 12 with 3 boundaries and Ramesh Mendis 11 off 8 (1×4).

The Reds did make a match out of it making 153 for 5 but lacked the final charge to make it despite having enough wickets in hand. Bhanuka Rajapaksa top scored with 34 off 28 with 2 boundaries while skipper Kusal Mendis made 30 off 28 with 3 boundaries and Kamindu Mendis 24 off 22 hitting a six.Upfront opening batsman Lasith Croospulle struck 31 off 24 inclusive of 3 boundaries for the Reds. Dickwella was adjudged Player of the Match.


Team Greens 161/6 (20 Overs) (Niroshan Dickwella n.o. 76, Dasun Shanaka 21, Dhananjaya de Silva 19,.Dinesh Chandimal 15, Ramesh Mendis 11, Asitha Fernando 2/32, Sahan Arachchige 1/13, Matheesha Pathirana 1/25, Wanindu Hasaranga 1/30).

Team Reds

153/5 (20 Overs) (Bhanuka Rajapaksa 34, Lasith Croospulle 31, Kusal Mendis 30, Kamindu Mendis 24, Sahan Arachchige n.o. 19, Ramesh Mendis 1/22, Nimesh Vimukthi 1/23, Nuwan Thushara 1/32, Dhananjaya Lakshan 1/39).


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New Zealand juggernaut rolls on with another all-round win



Odean Smith’s all-round show went in vain as West Indies’ batting once again did not manage to come to the party. Chasing 186, West Indies fell 13 runs short in the opening T20I in Jamaica as New Zealand’s juggernaut rolled on.

New Zealand had their returning skipper Kane Williamson put up a solid 47 off 33, and with Devon Conway’s 29-ball 43, the pair gave New Zealand a solid foundation to pile on the runs. There was a rain interruption in the 12th over for almost two hours, and although New Zealand lost momentum, briefly then, they recovered pretty quickly. Glenn Phillips and Daryl Mitchell got starts but couldn’t convert them. It was, however, Jimmy Neesham’s 15-ball 33 in the end that propelled New Zealand towards the finish they wanted. Odean Smith finished with a career-best 3-32, striking at vital junctures to dismiss New Zealand’s top three; else the West Indies could’ve been chasing a lot more.

Tim Southee struck in the second over to dismiss Kyle Mayers, but West Indies would take heart from Shamarh Brooks’s fighting 42 off 43 while wickets fell at the other end as all of New Zealand’s bowlers cashed in. West Indies were reduced to 114/7 with the inevitable end drawing closer, but resistance came, albeit late, of 50 off 23 balls from the eighth-wicket stand Smith and Romario Shepherd.

Smith smashed four boundaries and a six in his unbeaten 27 off 12, while Shepherd struck three sixes and a four in his 31 not out off 16 balls. New Zealand’s spinners shone through once again on a wicket that assisted them, returning four wickets. Santner was the pick with 3-19 in his four leading New Zealand’s defence, making the most of the knowledge gained from his CPL experience.

Brief scores:New Zealand 185/5 in 20 overs (Kane Williamson 47, Devon Conway 43; Odean Smith 3-32) beat West Indies 172/7 in 20 overs (Shamarh Brooks 42; Mitchell Santner 3-19) by 13 runs.


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