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Argentina creates History



by Rajitha Ratwatte

Under 10,000 spectators at Bankwest stadium in Sydney. Argentina undercooked said the experts, they had not played as a team for 13 months (since the last World Cup) 12 players had caught the virus and even the coach had been a victim. Argentina would have watched the last game played by the Wallabies and also the world cup semi-final and learned that the All Blacks are beatable, if their plan ‘A’ is disrupted, they don’t seem to have a plan ‘B’. The general opinion of all the experts with the exception Andrew Mhertens, the former All Black no10 was that the All Blacks would win easily, and the reason was that Argentina hadn’t played for over a year. What about fresh legs, I thought to myself and doesn’t commitment and attitude have anything to do with it?

Argentina kicked off with Angus Gardiner refereeing. Right from the start it was obvious that the Argentina Pumas had come to play, and they meant business. A deliberate knock on by All Blacks no11 Caleb Clark in the second minute could have been yellow carded by a lesser referee, but a penalty was awarded instead. The Pumas no10 Sanchez tried an early drop goal in the third minute but missed. Argentina was giving no quarter and in fact they tackled relentlessly and gave no room for the All Blacks three-quarters to run with any room throughout the match. The rough house tactics paid off, a penalty was awarded against the All Blacks in the fourth minute on the 50-meter line right in front of the posts. No problem for Sanchez and the Pumas straight into a 0- 3 lead. Another deliberate knock on but this time well inside the Argentina territory was awarded just a penalty (no yellow card) and since it was right in front of the posts Ritchie Muanga kicked it over 3 – 3, 13th minute.

The rough house tactics and untidy play continued with penalties awarded willy-nilly. In the 18th minute an Argentinian attacking move resulted in a try and they were playing under a penalty advantage as well. As soon as the referee’s hand went out giving the penalty advantage, Sanchez the brilliant Puma stand-off, chip kicked over New Zealand line, picked the ball up and scored under the posts. No question of missing maximum points and the score 3 -10.

A penalty awarded to the All Blacks was reversed when their hooker slapped an Argentinian player right under the referee’s eyes! This reflected the extent to which the All Blacks had been rattled by the Argentinian tactics. Totally unprofessional behaviour from Dane Coles, of all people! Penalties were being milked by both sides, in the 14th minute Aaron Smith in the no 9 jersey for the All Blacks, deliberately passed the ball onto an Argentinian player who was trying to get onside, Argentina retaliated with a player running onto Jodie Barret of the All Blacks after a challenge in the air. Again, this second incident could have been escalated to a tackle without arms and even resulted in a red card, but good sense prevailed. Angus Gardiner is one of the better referees around, but I wish he wouldn’t try to tell the props how to bind in the front row. He has obviously never been anywhere near a front row when playing the game and theory alone, doesn’t suffice in the front row!

All Blacks’ mistakes continued and in the 25th minute another kick able penalty was awarded, mid-left around 32 meters out and Sanchez obliged 3 -13 to the Pumas. The intensity was such that Pablo Matera of the Pumas and Lennert – Brown of the All Blacks both went off for HIA checks in the 28th and 30th minutes. Lennert- Brown’s departure saw Ricco Ioane come on at center for the All Blacks much to my dismay.

It was proved to be a mistake with Ioane dropping a vital pass on a move that looked like a certain try at a crucial stage of the game. In the 36th minute, Argentina crossed the New Zealand line once more but desperate defence from Aaron Smith and Ritchie Muanga saved the day. It took 32 minutes before the first scrum was held and Argentina gained a very kick able penalty straight away, 3 – 16 to the Pumas. At this stage it was clear that the All Blacks were being upstaged by the sheer determination and commitment of the Pumas. It was only a question of if they could handle the pace of the game for the full 80 minutes. Half-time came with the Pumas leading by the same margin of 13 points.

The scrappy play continued as far as the All Blacks went but it seemed to be a carefully orchestrated plan by the Pumas. A penalty was awarded to Argentina 35 meters out and mid-left and the lead was extended, score reading 3 – 19.

The All Blacks started to bring on the bench in the 48th minute with Codie Taylor at hooker, Ricco Ioane (this time officially at center, he was on earlier briefly as Lennert- Brown went for a HIA) and Hoskins Sotutu in the third row.

In the 52nd minute, the All Blacks after two successive penalties scored far left. A straight throw to Aardie Savea standing at the front of the line out caught the Pumas defence napping and Sam Cane the All Blacks skipper scrambled over the line. Muanga converted brilliantly and the score was 10 -19. Ritchie Muanga was caught off-side in the 56th minute and the result penalty was converted by Sanchez 10 -22. More changes from the bench for the All Blacks, Brad Webber came on at half -back for Smith and Damien McKenzie for Goodhue. This was the point at which Ricco Ioane dropped the ball at center from a move that looked like certain points and would have made the margin much smaller and possibly even changed the result of the game. Ritchie Muanga joined in the mayhem and tried a chip kick that resulted in giving the ball straight back to a blue and white player.

In the 69th minute, a kick able penalty was awarded to New Zealand and this was the first sign of lack of on field thinking and ability to adapt showing its ugly face, something that has dogged the All Blacks in recent times. At this stage the on field thinkers, or ‘brains trust’ (yes, such things do exist in Rugby Union!) in the team should have realised that this game was no cake walk. The margin was such that multiple scoring was needed, three points should have been taken. However, a kick for touch was the preferred option.

Two more kick able penalties were also discarded for a scrum and a short tap respectively. Argentina’s defence was unyielding and of course in retrospect it was obvious that all kicks should have been taken to keep the margin at reasonable levels.

Hoskins Sotutu made a nice break from no 8 off an attacking scrum but threw the ball wide without running for the line. Argentina was dominating at this stage and turnovers in loose play were almost par for the course. A penalty against the All Blacks around 55 meters out, with the angle to the posts was kicked over by Sanchez and the score read 10 -25 and Argentina was poised on their first ever victory over the All Blacks in the history of the game.

The full-time hooter sounded and just afterwards, Caleb Clark scored his first try for the All Blacks after back to back penalties. A tough kick was missed by Muanga and the full-time score read 15 – 25, a historic win for Argentina, against all odds and thoroughly deserved.

One thing for sure, there is no such thing as an expert in the game of Rugby football. Undercooked they said, All Blacks to win by 40 points said John Kirwan, to use an Argentinian beef-based analogy, underdone they may have been but it was still a prime rib eye steak.


Sri Lanka seek results after hard work  



by Rex Clementine  

Sri Lanka have competed well in patches in their recent outings in Test match cricket, but they have lacked the killer blow instinct. Too often we have seen, Mickey Arthur’s side doing all the hard work in a game and spoiling that all – often in a session. A dramatic collapse, dropped catches, poor reviews, injuries or lackluster bowling have hurt the team. The main issue they need to address is that lack of application by batsmen who have thrown it away with some brainless cricket.

There’s a selection dilemma with former skipper Angelo Mathews returning to the side after missing the West Indies Tests due to personal reasons. Pathum Nissanka, who came in for his place, grabbed the opportunity from both hands with a hundred on debut. He became the first Sri Lankan to score a Test hundred in his maiden Test away from home.

It remains to be seen whom the selectors will leave out.  It could be Oshada Fernando with Nissanka swapping places for the number three slot. Or it could be Niroshan Dickwella, from whom wicketkeeping gloves could be taken away and given to Dinesh Chandimal.

The move has been something that has been discussed for a while now but since being put under pressure, Dickwella has not only contributed with the bat but shown more responsibility as well. The first Test match against Bangladesh gets underway on Wednesday in a bio secure bubble. Expect a bit of rain during the series, particularly in the evenings as it is always the case in the hill capital. Well, we were actually told when the ground was built that it was located in one of the driest areas in the Central Province. Very little the press realized that we were being taken for a ride. And of course the venue is located in the electorate of the then Sports Minister.

Bangladesh need to raise their game in this series after a disappointing few months at home. That they will not have the services of Shakib Al Hasan and Mustafizur Rahman is a further blow for them.

Pallekele will host both Tests and could be a major hub throughout this year when limited over games take place in ‘bio bubble’ environment.

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Sri Lanka back pace for Bangladesh Tests



by Rex Clementine

Having conducted the England Test series so well in a ‘bio-secure bubble’ in Galle, Sri Lanka Cricket has decided to move the Bangladesh series to Pallekele. Did any technical reasons prompt SLC to move from the coastal town to the hill capital?  Not really. The move is a tactical one. The Sri Lankans would be thinking that spin is Bangladesh’s strength so the best way to beat them is through pace. Hence, the shift to Kandy where seamers get much more purchase and value for money for their efforts.

The move may look somewhat defensive. Given the England experience where the Somerset duo of Dom Bess and Jack Leach made a mockery of Sri Lanka’s top and middle order, the hosts seem to be not wanting to play into Bangladesh’s hands whose spinners have been quite formidable in recent years.

Hence having shifted base to Kandy, Sri Lanka could go all out with a  pace heavy attack when the Test series gets underway next week. Wanindu Hasaranga could be the only spinner in the side with Dhananjaya de Silva’s part time off-spin as back up.

Lahiru Kumara has returned to the squad having missed the West Indies tour after being tested positive for COVID-19. There was a lot of excitement that Sri Lanka would be able to see two of their quickest bowlers in action in the same match but Dushmantha Chameera, has pulled out from the series due to personal reasons.

Suranga Lakmal, who was named Player of the Series in the Caribbean after his impressive performance, will spearhead the attack. Vishwa Fernando will add variety with his left arm bowling and it remains to be seen how well he does in helpful conditions having fared well in South Africa early this year.

There are a few issues with the spin department after Lasith Embuldeniya was ruled out with injury. Duvindu Tillekeratne is also down with injury while Prabath Jayasuriya, who had shown la ot of promise was almost picked for the series but he became ineligible for selection after failing the skin fold test marginally. That opened up a slot for rookie Praveen Jayawickrama who is thin on experience having played just a handful of First Class matches

Bangaldesh will be handicapped as Shakib Al Hasan their biggest match winner is in India playing the IPL. They will also miss the services of Mustafizur Rahman, the spearhead of the attack.

Still, the tourists have some solid players. Off-spinner Mehidy Hasan recently became the fastest Bangladeshi to claim 100 Test wickets and at the age of 23 a  lot is expected of him.  He is more than a  handy bat having already posted a hundred and three half-centuries in Test match cricket.

Tamim Iqbal, Mominul Haque and Mushfiqur Rahim are the mainstay of their batting. Mushfiqur has been ever present in the Bangladeshi side having made his Test debut 16 years ago at the age of 18.

Former captain Angelo Mathews is back in the side having returned home from the West Indies early. Which of the seven batters will miss out to accommodate Mathews remains to be seen.

Sri Lanka have won 16 of the 20 Tests against Bangladesh and lost just one game. However, most of those wins were in the early days and in recent years Bangladesh have done well competing and drawing games. 

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Sebs’ cricket stalwart Cooray retires after more than three decades of service



by Reemus Fernando

Franklyn Cooray, the former Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association official, retired as the Master in Charge of Cricket of St. Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa after completing more than three and half decades of yeoman service recently. Franklyn Cooray who was popular in cricket circles as Frank Cooray, was the longest serving team official at the time of his retirement. During his 37 year association with schools cricket, Cooray witnessed the evolution of First XI cricket from mere Traditional matches to present day tournaments of varying divisions and was involved in St. Sebastian’s cricket as a coach and Master in Charge guiding the destiny of many future national cricketers.

Cooray played First XI cricket for St. Sebastian’s from 1962 to 1966 and was among the very few Sebs cricketers of his era to have tasted Big Match success. He captained all age group teams of St. Sebastian’s. After leaving school he worked at the Irrigation Department as a Senior Technical Officer and played in the Government Services ‘A’ Division Cricket tournament until making a premature retirement in 1983.

He was entrusted with the responsibility of training cricketers of St. Sebastian’s in 1984 by Rev. Bro. Nimal Gurusinghe, when coaching was voluntary. Three years later Cooray was included in the tutorial staff by Rev. Bro. Granville Perera. He was the coach cum Master in Charge of St. Sebastian’s from 1987 to 1994 and held the latter position until his retirement this year.

During his tenure as a coach, Cooray provided guidance at different levels to several Sebs who later became household names. Of them Dulip Mendis, Roger Wijesuriya, Susil Fernando, Romesh Kaluwitharana and Sajeewa de Silva went on to play Test cricket. “Kaluwitharana was coached by Brother Gurusinghe before he came under my supervision at senior level,” Cooray recalled in an interview with The Island.

Cooray was the Master in Charge of Cricket when the likes of Prasanna Jayawardena, Dinusha Fernando, Vishwa Fernando, Amila Aponso, Avishka Fernando and Oshada Fernando learnt their ABC of cricket at St. Sebastian’s.

While being the MIC, Cooray was also entrusted with the responsibility of the curator after a turf wicket was laid at the St. Sebastian’s ground in 1990.

He was selected to SLSCA Executive Committee in 1988 and a year later became the Under-19 tournament secretary, a position he held until 2006. He was among the leading officials of SLSCA who were instrumental in introducing the two-day league tournament and the Under-19 tournament structure with three Divisions. As of late it has undergone many changes.

However he was against introducing the points system that determined winners on first innings points. “That system would promote the culture of playing for trophies. I never encouraged the point system for first innings wins. We gave points only for outright victories. During our time we hardly batted after tea. We would try to score as much as possible in the morning and declared and get the opposition to bat in the afternoon. That way we would try to win outright. That was lost after the points system was introduced,” opined Cooray.

Cooray also lamented the absence of natural stroke play among present day cricketers. “Players going for their natural strokes is something that we are missing greatly these days. You must encourage batsmen to go for their natural strokes,” said Cooray.

He was the Under-19 tournament secretary of the SLSCA at a time when computers were yet be utilized for calculation of points and to make points tables of the league tournaments. Yet as schools cricket reporters would recall he was readily available with a near accurate points table of the tournament at the end of every week during the schools cricket season.

Apart from holding the Under-19 tournament secretary position, Cooray also held the junior national coach position briefly. He was the coach of the Sri Lanka Under-15 side that toured England for the Under-15 Lombard World Challenge.

His contribution to cricket was recognized by the International Cricket Council in 2009 when he was presented with a medal during its Centenary Medals Presentation for Volunteers.

As he steps in to retirement with loads of fond memories from cricket, Cooray thanked former administrators of St. Sebastian’s Rev. Bro. Nimal Gurusinghe and Rev. Bro. Granville Perera, late Rev. Fr. Bonnie Fernandopulle who made it possible for him to take up coaching and cricket administration and coaches including Kanishka Perera who helped during his tenure.

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