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Antigua; good, bad and the ugly

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By Rex Clementine

Antigua is one of the finest tourist attractions in the world with some 300 beaches to boast about. Although the Europeans pick Barbados as their favourite Caribbean destination, Antigua is equally good and slightly less expensive. Barbados only has a population of 250,000. Antigua is even less – 90,000 people. Barbados has produced the finest players from the Caribbean, from the Three Ws, Sir Garry Sobers, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall and all the other stars. Antigua is less charming when it comes to cricketing talent but not bad when you consider Sir Viv Richards, Richie Richardson, Andy Roberts and Curtly Ambrose all emerged from this tiny island.

The Sri Lankan Cricket team is putting up at Pineapple Resort in Antigua not very far from Swetes where one Mrs. Hillie Ambrose ran out of the house and rang the street bells every time her son took a wicket in Test match cricket. The Sri Lankans played their inaugural Test match in the Caribbean in 1997 in Antigua. Mrs. Ambrose was a busy woman as she rang the bell eight times. This was fast bowling at its very best and Ambrose was named Man of the Match after finishing with eight wickets. The Sri Lankans had to put up with another menacing quick in Courtney Walsh, who left Hashan Tillekeratne with a broken arm.

That was at the old cricket ground – Recreation Ground at Antigua. It was a venue much loved by locals as some of the finest moments of their sporting history had come there. Located at the heart of the capital in St. John’s, the venue witnessed Brian Lara’s 375 and 400 not out, ten years apart. Only one thing didn’t change – the opposition. The West Indies used to love England attacks.

For the 2007 World Cup, cricket moved out of Recreation ground. The officials were saying that they were looking for a cricket only venue as at the old ground football and other sports had been played. But in reality, they seemed to be more worried about financial benefits a shift would bring.

The new ground has been named after Antigua’s famous sporting son – Sir Viv Richards.  The Sri Lankans will be based in Antigua for their entire stay in the Caribbean. While the ODIs and Tests will be played in Sir Viv Richards Stadium, the T-20 series will take place at Alan Stanford Stadium.

Alan Stanford at one point was a godsend to cricket. He signed a multimillion dollar deal with England and Wales Cricket Board for a series of T-20 games. ECB in 2008 thought Stanford was the best way to take on India’s IPL which had just started off.  In a publicity stunt, Stanford even flew to Lord’s in his private helicopter to sign the deal with England cricket bosses.

Stanford was based in Antigua but most of his businesses were in US. A few months after signing the ECB deal, he was charged by the FBI for financial fraud and currently he is serving a 110 year jail term. 

Some men who duped cricket’s guardians are in jail. Stanford is a case in point while others like Vijay Mallaya are having a hard time facing lengthy legal battles. Some others are still at large, particularly a few who frequent Colombo-7.  Their excesses are set to be exposed soon when COPE meets.



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Dilshi stamps her class with national record

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Shanika qualifies for World Junior Championships

by Reemus Fernando

Former Ratnayake Central Walala athlete Dilshi Kumarasinghe stamped her class with a new Sri Lanka record performance in the 800 metres while emerging 800 metres runner Shanika Lakshani reached qualifying standards for the World Under 20 Championships and sprinter Mohamed Safan broke shackles to win the 200 metres as the first Selection Trial produced its best on the final day at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Friday.

Kumarasinghe who registered her maiden 400 metres triumph at national level on Wednesday bagged the 800 metres win as well in style on Friday when she clocked the fastest time for the distance by a Sri Lankan in history. Her time of two minutes and 2.55 seconds erased the four year-old national record held by experienced Gayanthika Abeyratne who finished third(3rd 2:03.64 secs) yesterday. Asia’s third ranked 800 metres runner Nimali Liyanarachchi was placed second in a time of 2:03.15 seconds. Former record holder Abeyratne is ranked fifth in Asia.

The 21-year-old athlete trained by Susantha Fernando maintained a steady pace right throughout to win the event for the second time within months. She won her first 800 meters title at senior level at the last National Championships in December. “I am happy to have broken the record. We planned for the record but I am not satisfied with the time,” Kumarasinghe told The Island. Her coach Fernando expressed similar sentiments. “We were planning to produced a far better timing as she has the potential to reach international level,” said Fernando.

Kumarasinghe who is currently ranked sixth in Asia behind local counterparts Liyanarachchi and Aberatne is set to improve her ranking when the World Athletics update statistics next week.

Holy Cross College, Gampaha athlete Shanika Lakshani became the second junior runner at this championships to earn qualifying standards for the World Under-20 Championship which will be held in Nairobi, Kenya next August. Her coach Madura Perera said that it was a huge relief to witness his trainee accomplish the target after missing it by a whisker at the National Championships in December. Lakshani, running alongside the veterans clocked 2:07.02 seconds (Qualifying mark: 2:08.70 seconds).

On Wednesday Isuru Kawshalya Abewardana of Ananda Sastralaya Matugama reached qualifying standards for the World Under-20 Championship when he returned a time of 47.24 seconds in the Junior Men’s 400 metres final.

In the men’s 200 metres, Mohamed Safan turned tables on National Champion Kalinga Kumarage as both clocked sub 21 seconds, a rarity at local athletics. Safan was playing second fiddle to Kumarage at the last National Championships where he clocked 21.41 seconds. Yesterday Safan returned a time of 20.81 seconds, while Kumarage clocked 20.85 seconds.

In the women’s 200 metres, Nadeesha Ramanayake was the winner. She clocked 24.28 seconds.

The men’s 800 metres, conspicuous by the absence of national record holder Indunil Herath, was won by the Asian Championship participant Rusiru Chathuranga, who clocked 1:49.82 seconds.

Herath was not the only leading athlete who was absent at the First Selection Trial which was organized by Sri Lanka Athletics to provide much needed competition opportunity to top athletes vying to reach Olympic qualifying standards.

The next track and field competition for top athletes will be the next month’s National Championship.

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COPE; a toothless tiger?

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by Rex Clementine

Parliamentary watchdog COPE – Committee on Public Enterprises has made a scathing attack on some of the corrupt practices at Sri Lanka Cricket. COPE Chief, Professor Charith Herath has gone onto claim that by fighting out certain legal battles and writing off money that companies and member club owed SLC, insiders may have been receiving kickbacks. This is a very serious allegation by the  legislature.

Professor Herath wants legal action taken against SLC officials. It remains to be seen whether any culprits can be hauled up before courts or whether COPE is just a toothless tiger.

In the absence of SLC bigwigs, CEO Ashley de Silva bore the brunt of the criticism. In January this year, in these pages we wrote that Ashley’s time was up. While there are many questions about his efficiency and decision making abilities, it can be safely said that Ashley is no crook. The real crooks are hiding behind the CEO.

There have been some decent men as well at SLC like Mohan de Silva, who was President in 2004. De Silva had warned his colleagues that their excesses could tarnish the reputation of the institution, but his concerns fell on deaf ears.

Not only the guardians of SLC but even those who let them enter into these corrupt deals need to be probed. While most of these allegations will take time to prove, certain things can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. For example fixing a domestic match in 2017 by some prominent members of SLC.

However, four successive Sports Ministers – Dayasiri Jayasekara, Faizer Mustapaha, Harin Fernando and Namal Rajapaksa – failed to take action. All four turned a blind eye despite having overwhelming evidence in front of them. Ravin Wickramaratne, the number one suspect, went places in cricket circles. He is now SLC’s alternate ICC Director.

At a time when the game has been so badly managed, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa’s decision to backdate a gazette notification extending the term of SLC’s Executive Committee has not gone down well with many. Rather than giving a clean bill of health to SLC hierarchy, he should have perhaps taken the bad eggs out.

The ball is back on Namal’s court. It is his Ministry that has to now decide which deals need to be proved and against which officials’ action needs to be taken in courts of law.  From the start, Namal has treated SLC hierarchy with kids’ gloves. Now that their deficiencies have been exposed well and truly, he needs to watch his steps. If he continues to play politics with cricket governance, his popularity is going to wane, fast.

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Saha wins U12 boys’ singles title  

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Saha Kapilasena beat Sasen Premaratne to win the Under-12 boys’ singles title of the Clay Court Nationals conducted at the Sri Lanka Tennis Association courts on Friday. 

Kapilasena scored 6-3, 6-1 to win the title. Kapikasena ousted third seed Aahil Kaleel in the semi-final, Premaratne eliminated number one seed Methika Wickramasinghe in the semi-final. 

In the mixed doubles final Anika Seneviratne and Thangaraja Dineshkanthan were the winners as they beat Sanka Athukorale and Neyara Weerawansa 7-5, 6-4. 

Sanka Athukorale and Yasita de Silva beat Rajeev Rajapakse and Renouk Wijemanne 6-4, 6-0 to clinch the men’s doubles title.  

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