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Argy – Bargy meets BLACK WALL!

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

The much anticipated ‘payback’ match for New Zealand’s All Blacks against the Argentinian Pumas had finally arrived. In one of the hottest days recorded in decades, in Newcastle Sydney, the Pumas fielded a different team to their last game, with over ten changes. Probably looking for fresh legs as this was their third international in three weeks. Joe Moody the All Black number one, loose head prop was playing his 50th game in the black jersey. Akira Ioane was back in the starting XV in the number six jersey.

The Pumas’ were mourning the death of their football legend Diego Maradona and the All Blacks made a wonderful gesture before they started their Haka, in honour of their opponents. Sam Cane the skipper walked up to the Argentinian team who were facing up to the haka and laid down a black jersey with the name Maradona and the no10 on it. A very impressive move by the All Blacks and very much in keeping with the standards and behaviour that New Zealanders expect from the All Blacks! A very suitable honour for El Pibe de Ora – The Golden Boy.

The first scrum happened in the second minute and it was the All Blacks who dominated. The resulting scrum penalty was around 45 meters out and rather surprisingly, Jodie Barret was given the ball to take a shot at goal. He missed!

In the ninth minute, the All Blacks playing under a penalty advantage, well inside Puma territory saw Beauden Barret chip kick over the defence and center Lennert-Brown knocked on when collecting the ball. Usually referees play a much longer advantage but, on this occasion, and few others as the game progressed, the advantage for All Blacks was forgotten and a defensive scrum awarded to the blue and white team.

In the 12th minute a great long pass by Ritchie Muanga to Dan Coles the hooker, who has a penchant for lurking on the wing, saw him go over and score far right. Muanga converted and the Kiwis were into a 7 – 0 lead.

Aaron Smith who had a pretty average game showed some good clear, incisive thinking on this occasion, as he spotted a gap behind the Argentine line and kicked ahead gaining a lot of territory. A very kickable penalty was awarded to the All Blacks right in front of the posts and the three points were a mere formality. 10 – 0 to the New Zealand All Blacks.

The ABs were starting to dominate both in loose play and in the set pieces, particularly the scrums. However, the Argentine defence seemed impregnable and the Kiwis may even have been accused of trying too hard. Aaron Smith didn’t see a couple of opportunities to run with the ball and possibly score from five meters out and kept passing to heavily marked team members.

There were a few “pedantic” high tackle penalties awarded to the Pumas and some rough play from Argentina duly overlooked by the ref. A penalty advantage for the Blacks was also terminated rather quickly, again, but they kept their cool and refused to succumb to the mental games. There were a few uncharacteristic handling errors by the Pumas, possibly due to the high humidity levels and a greasy ball. In the 38th minute a penalty was awarded to the NZ team after many phases of dominating forward play. It was around 25 meters out and mid right, should have been an easy kick for Muanga but he struck the left upright and missed! So, the All Blacks went into half time with a 10 – 0 lead after having 76% of the possession and 77% of the territory! A tribute to the Argentinian defence. The All Blacks also missed two penalties, was this to prove costly?

The second half started with two All Blacks players crashing into each other when trying to collect the kick off from Argentina. Scott Barret and Caleb Clark both went for the ball and Clark came up with it, from what looked like a nasty clash. However, Scotty Barret sprang to his feet, but it left the spectators wondering what was going on. Akira Ioane who the referee had pinged a few times for largely imaginary offences, (one wonders if the officials earmark certain players who have reputations to watch closely during the game!) ripped the ball away for a turnover, from the Pumas during a possibly dangerous phase of loose play.

This was further emphasis of the dominance that the All Blacks had in loose play and one of the main reasons for their victory.

The Argentinian skipper was caught offside from kickable range, but the All Blacks chose to go for territory. The Argentinian defence was rock solid and it finally took a back peel from a line out, in the 52nd minute of the game, with Aardie Savea who stood at number two even though he was wearing the number eight jersey, charging through the defence to score mid left. Muanga managed the balance two points and 17 – 0 to the New Zealanders.

Sam Cane the skipper and hard-working wing forward of the All Blacks was impeccable in attack and defence. It was a treat to watch and a real lesson for an aspiring young player. He ensured the dominance in loose play and at the breakdown. From the 55th minute onwards both teams started resorting to their bench players. A couple of remarkable changes that made an impact on the score line was Sam Whitelock going off for Patrick Tuapoletu in the second row and Caleb Clark being replaced by Will Jordan in the wing.

In retrospect it was rather obvious that these players, particularly Jordan had been sent on to look for attacking opportunities as it was essential to win this game with a bonus point to have a better chance of securing the silverware at the end of the tournament.

Sure enough Will Jordan picked up a wild pass to nowhere by the Pumas, scythed his way through the defence and scored under the posts in the 68th minute, 24 – 0 to the All Blacks. This in the view of all New Zealanders was more like it.

In the 69th minute Jordan again intercepted an Argentine pass and ran around 35 meters to score far left. The replay showed Jordan out of position for defence as the Pumas were attacking, he was looking for the intercept! Muanga was back in kicking form and slotted it brilliantly, 31 – 0, bonus point under control and a fine clinical and professional performance from the New Zealanders.

In the 80th minute, after the hooter had gone, Ricco Ioane went over the line, but the try was disallowed as Lomax was pinged by the TV referee for a foul and yellow carded. I wonder when he will serve his time in the sin bin? As the rugby season is over. Maybe by eating his Christmas dinner 10 minutes late!!

The Pumas could have ended the match at this stage, but they chose to continue in a desperate attempt to cross their opponents line at least once. There was a penalty awarded when Sam Cane was cleaned out in what could even be deemed as a spear tackle. Cane got up bleeding from a gash on his right eye and this was too much for some of his team mates who went for the Argies. The penalty was promptly reversed in the mindless interpretation of the rules which has begun to characterise and degrade this game we love. However, the All Blacks were having none of this and found enough in the engine room to set replacement number four Patrick Tuapoletu off on a 20-meter run to score mid right. Insult to Injury for the Pumas with the final score 38 – 0 to the All Blacks.

All in all, a very ‘satisfying’ (in the words of Sam Cane) assertion of the quality of All Black rugby. Full kudos for sending Will Jordan on with the brief he had and the ability to ‘pick up the plums’ (in the words of the Coach). Respect your opponents by all means but beat them convincingly by playing professional rugby football. That is what this great game is all about.



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Sri Lanka seek results after hard work  

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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

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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

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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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