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Aussie teams improving in Round four of Trans-Tasman, or are they?



by Rajitha Ratwatte

A second-string Crusaders team (mainly due to All Black resting of players requirements) took on the Western Force in Christchurch. The preceding week had torrential rain that caused havoc on the roads and in the farms of the South Island, but the ground was dry and conditions underfoot as good as could be expected. The Crusaders without Mo’uanga, Seevu Reece, Blackadder, Whitelock, and a host of their regular starting line-up. The Force with Kurandrani in the center looking like a real threat. Referee Ben O’Keefe.

The Western Force started with a bang, with star winger Tony Pulu stepping beautifully off his right foot and leaving the famed Crusader defence standing to score extreme right in the second minute of the game. Tony Pulu who was injured later in the game, made that try look easy and would have made a bigger impact on the final result had he been around for longer. Converted from a difficult angle and a 0–7 lead to the visitors. The Crusaders struck back in the tenth minute from a judicious chip kick by Braydon Ennor playing at center that was picked up by Manasa Matele showing a great turn of speed from the wing and scoring mid-right. Fergus Burke who took the kick in the absence of Mo’uanga added the extra points and the scores were locked up at seven each. Nine minutes later some great hands in the three-quarter line saw Will Jordan in a gap with 22 meters ahead of him and crossing the line was a mere formality for the full-back. The conversion was difficult from the extreme left of the field and Fergus Burke was not up to the task. 12–7 Crusaders in the lead. Twenty five minutes into the game two successive penalties were awarded to the Crusaders and the resulting touch kicks saw the now famous rolling maul activated and Whetukamokamo Douglas (..and they say Sri Lankan names are difficult!) scored a try which remained unconverted 17–7 to the Crusaders.

The Force was spending a lot of time in Crusaders’ territory and strung together 10 phases before the defence finally crumbled and their no eight Olli Callan scored far left. It was converted nicely, and the score read 17-14 after 30 minutes of very “uncrusaderlike” rugby. All the marginal decisions and line calls seemed to be going the way of the visitors but that may have been this reporter’s bias towards NZ teams! However, it left the room to wonder if a directive had been made in an attempt to “level the playing field” in favour of the “weaker” Australian teams. This thought started with the last game played in round three during which the Waikato Chiefs lost and was exacerbated by certain occurrences in the next game played on this day. One hopes sincerely, that this is not the case because should it be and should it have come from the television Moghuls, in a ham-handed attempt to attract bigger audiences from Australia, it is totally unacceptable! Two crusader tries were disallowed by the TMO over the next five minutes and finally, another rolling maul from the crusaders got them a seven pointer on the halftime whistle. 24–14 but the home side not looking very convincing.

The second half started badly for the Crusaders with Will Jordan misjudging the kick-off and allowing it to bounce. That gain of territory made by Force combined with 16 phases put together by them had the Crusaders defending grimly. There was no change in the scoreline, but the Force dominated this phase of the game playing with numerous penalty advantages given by the referee. Two more Crusader tries scored by Will Jordan and Tamati Williams (a huge man 6’5″ and 140+ kgs- Playing his first game at prop) were disallowed by the TMO until a forward’s scramble and a great pass from the Crusaders halfback saw an unconverted try take the score to 29–14 with an all-important bonus point for the home side. This is when the Crusaders skipper with maybe some input from the coach should have decided to close the game down and settle for a win, with this margin, but they are not used to playing like that and suffered the consequences of having dominated rugby in this part of the world for so long. Even the regular starters and star players who made it to this game like David Havili and Will Jordan were looking nonplussed and Crusaders fans who associated jersey numbers of the regulars with their usual impeccable performances were disappointed when those numbers didn’t deliver. An injury caused to a Force player after the full use of the bench saw them a player short for the last ten minutes of the game. This may have been the reason for the Crusaders’ brains trust to decide on an all-out attack even neglecting to kick from well inside their territory and try to run the ball out and losing it to the opposition. Finally, a kick ahead from the Force saw no one manning the last line of defence for the Crusaders and a straight sprint for the line won by the Force, getting themselves a converted try and removing the bonus point from the Crusader’s final tally of 29–21. There are three possible contenders for the final, all NZ teams, and the bonus points may decide the outcome. The Crusaders now have to wait and see how the Auckland Blues and the Wellington Hurricanes go later in the weekend.

The next game on Friday was at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. The Queensland Reds hosting the Auckland Blues who have missed out on finals contention in the Aotearoa Super Rugby tournament are now looking for an opportunity to make up. The Blues remained in the Red’s territory from the kick-off when they charged down the attempted clearing kick but couldn’t capitalise until the 11th minute when Oteri Black converted a penalty from mid-left, awarded by referee Mike Frazer for a “no hands in the tackle” by a Red’s player. Red cards have been issued for such offences in the past. 3–0 Blues ahead. 20 minutes into the game the Red’s number eight Harry Wilson collected an offload from Hunter Paisamy, who had an exceptional game, an offload that could only have gone forwards in the view of Andrew Mhertens and everyone else except the referee ran 30 meters to score under the posts. 3–7 the Australian Champions in the lead. A series of baffling decisions by the on-field referee including disregarding a tackle on a player in the air (fortunately rectified by the TMO) and issuing only a yellow card for collapsing two mauls inside the Red’s 10-meter line, instead of at least one penalty try, saw the scoreline remain unchanged. Dalton Papelili was finally able to score the first of two tries in the 10 minutes that the Reds were a player down due to the yellow card issued to their Hooker Amosa for collapsing a maul in a possible scoring area. The first try took the score to 10-7 and the second unconverted try in the 33rd minute scored by Mark Telea took the Blues ahead by 17–7 at halftime.

The Blues forwards started to dominate the second half with a few line out steals complemented by stringing together 19 phases of play that saw the number nine Christie who failed to see a scoring opportunity for himself, pass to his skipper Patrick Tuapoletu who barged his way over the line for a seven pointer; 24–7. The Blues had to defend furiously against a sustained attack by the Red’s who were finally awarded another try off a ball that squirted out of a ruck off a Reds player and in the view of the officials was deemed to have bounced sideways first before it bounced forward and was pounced upon over the line by Paenga Amosa trying to make up for his yellow card. 24–14 Blues still ahead. 53 minutes into the game The Blues Halfback was in a similar situation to their last scoring opportunity inches away from the Reds line, when he saw the gap, he had missed last time and dived over to score his first try of the game and to cap off a fine run of form. No problems for Oteri Black with the conversion 31–14 and the Blues looking comfortable. 50 minutes or so into the game All Black prop and impact player Nepo Laulala suffered a brain freeze and was caught blatantly offside, picking a ball up off a ruck and exacerbating the “dumb” reputation that the big men in the engine room seem to attract every once in a while! The Blues line-out jumpers continued to dominate and kept either stealing the ball or spoiling the Reds lineouts. Zaan Sullivan who has played brilliantly in the number 15 jersey for the Blues continued finding great touch with his left boot. Special mention must be made of the Pacifica players in the reds lineup Sulasi Vunivelu, Taniela Tupou, Hunter Paisami, and Krisi Kurindrani in particular who continue to impress and are undoubtedly among the prime reasons for the Reds dominating Australian rugby. The Reds kept attacking with penalty advantage after penalty advantage being given to them, it took a cross-kick to Daugunu on the wing who split the Blues defence and left two Blues defenders gaping to score under the posts. The score read 31–21 at this stage and the commentators were getting excited with their perceived view that the reds had a chance of winning with 10 minutes left in the game. The benefit of the doubt and all marginal calls kept going to the Reds until a penalty was awarded from around 40 meters out but right in front of the posts. Who steps forward but the one and only Filipo Daugunu a truly outstanding exponent of the game and boots it over easy as you like! 31–24 remained the final score, taking the Auckland Blues to the top of the leader board until the next games in 24 hours.


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Where have all the mystery bowlers gone? 



by Rex Clementine 

It’s been a while since a mystery Sri Lankan spinner bamboozled the opposition batsmen. Not just batsmen but coaches went on a frenzy decoding these bowlers while Times of India and Daily Telegraph dedicated headlines praising how well Sri Lanka groomed these sensational talents.

Ajantha Mendis was the last global sensation with bit of mystery as his carrom ball humbled India’s fabulous batting line-up comprising Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman and Ganguly. After him T. M. Dilshan opening the batting with field restrictions on came up with a scoop shot over the head of the wicketkeeper that later became popular as Dilscoop.

Not exactly mystery but Sri Lanka promoting unorthodox style of play totally contrary to the coaching manual had been appreciated and encouraged. Not just Dilshan and Mendis but Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya all broke convention and were extremely successful.

Credit to selectors and captains for encouraging these natural talents and more importantly for the coaches, especially at lower levels, for not sidelining them for being different.

Mendis and Malinga weren’t hits at school cricket and they were more or less groomed after they left school. But Jayasuriya and Murali were entirely different. Thankfully their early coaches did not tinker too much with their style.

Coaches nowadays are too engaged in the sport. They roam around the boundary rope providing ball by ball instructions making the captain redundant. Imagine how much impact they’d be having on players at training and there’s little room for creativity.

Cricket Academies are mushrooming as well with little monitoring done and you sense that not many players with unorthodox style are going to be accepted and as a result succeed. There are few rare talents with unorthodox styles. Some bowlers have copied Lasith Malinga and Matheesha Pathirana has earned an IPL deal even before he’s become a permanent fixture in the Sri Lankan side.

Paul Adams earned a nickname ‘frog in the blender’ for his action  and anyone who sees Sri Lankan spinner Kevin Koththigoda from down south will remember the South African wrist spinner.

Funnily Richmond College, Galle seem to be nurturing these special talents and Kamindu Mendis is another player who can  make a big impact. He’s nowadays mostly in the Test squad and nearly featured in the second Test in Wellington. He’s there in the team for his batting but he’s ambidextrous and bowls both left-arm spin and off-spin with good accuracy. That makes him an ideal candidate for shorter formats of the game and that’s where he should perhaps focus more at succeeding.

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Gateway wins Netball Championship



The victorious Gateway College under 18 Netball team

Gateway College emerged Under 18 Netball Champions at the Inter International School tournament organized by Colombo International School (CIS) played at the Sugadadasa Indoor Stadium.

Gateway College, led by calm and composed Rithika Srikanth, beat Lyceum Wattala 16 -8 in the final after leading 9 – 6 at the breather. Gateway entered the final by beating their counterpart in Kandy 12 -6. At the Group stages, Gateway beat ILMA 16– 5, Lyceum Nugegoda 12 – 1, CIS Colombo 17 – 0 and the British School in Colombo 18 – 0.

Gateway’s young star Shenoshi Abeygunawardena was crowned the Netball Queen and Cloe Thillakaratne was adjudged as the Best Defensive player. Mawrya Liyanage did the vital turnarounds to keep Lyceum Wattala under check and Goal Attack Onadhi Samarakoon was outstanding with her accurate shooting.

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2023 Asia Cup likely in Pakistan and one other overseas venue for India games



“Which visa do we have to apply for?”

The 2023 Asia Cup is likely to be played in Pakistan with another overseas venue to host India games. ESPNcricinfo has learnt that both BCCI and PCB, after an initial standoff, are moving swiftly towards brokering a resolution which could have both teams playing their tournament matches against each other outside Pakistan. The overseas venue is not confirmed but the UAE, Oman, Sri Lanka and even England are potential contenders to host five matches including at least two India-Pakistan contests.

India and Pakistan have been grouped together along with a qualifier in the six-nation Asia Cup, scheduled to be held in the first half of September this year and in a 50-over format. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are part of the other group. A total of 13 matches will be played across 13 days including the final. As per the format for the 2022 Asia Cup, the top two teams from each group advance to the Super 4s and the top two teams then contest the final. The possibility of India and Pakistan playing three times remains.

As it stands, a small working group has been formed with the brief of creating a schedule and travel plan agreeable to all participating countries as well as the broadcaster before a final call is taken. The weather is likely to play a key role in determining the second venue outside of Pakistan, though there will be keenness among the Asian venues to host high-profile India-Pakistan games. Temperatures in early September in the UAE usually hover around the 40-degreee centigrade mark, though that has not prevented cricket from being played there: the 2021 IPL was played there late September, but Pakistan have played international matches in early September. In Muscat, Oman’s capital, temperatures remain lower and it did host the first round of the 2021 T20 World Cup. The option for England remains an ambitious one, though the prospect of big crowds in a city like London is likely to be an attractive one.

The option of staging part of the Asia Cup outside Pakistan was agreed in principle as the most favourable by all members of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) when they met last weekend in Dubai, on the sidelines of the ICC’s quarterly board meetings. Having failed to reach a resolution mid-March in Bahrain at the ACC meet, members converged for two further rounds of informal discussions in Dubai. The PCB, which has the hosting rights for the 2023 edition of Asia Cup, was represented by its chair Najam Sethi while the BCCI team comprised its secretary Jay Shah and Arun Dhumal, the IPL governing council chairman.

Last October, the PCB was caught off guard by Shah who said that the 2023 Asia Cup would be held in a “neutral” venue. The PCB, then under Ramiz Raja – Sethi’s predecessor – immediately responded that Pakistan would pull out of the tournament altogether if it was taken out of the country. Sethi reiterated that stance both in the Bahrain and Dubai rounds of discussions. Shah said he had made the statement in his capacity as the ACC president. During the Bahrain meeting, the BCCI pointed out that as hosts it had successfully conducted the 2018 edition of Asia Cup at a neutral venue – in the UAE – after it became clear Pakistan could not travel to India due to the strained political ties between the two neighbouring countries.

Relations continuing as they are, Shah had told the ACC that India wouldn’t be able to travel to Pakistan for the Asia Cup. As discussions began in Dubai, he reiterated the position. The PCB did likewise, saying that if the entire tournament was taken out of Pakistan, they would pull out of the event altogether. At one point Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) had offered to swap the hosting rights with the PCB, willing to stage the entire tournament, but that was rejected by the PCB.

With a stalemate all too apparent, a second option of splitting the tournament across two countries including Pakistan emerged over the course of informal discussions and was eventually presented and discussed at the formal ACC meeting. It is understood both PCB and BCCI were open to such a plan, subject to details and logistics being worked out that satisfied everyone. The plan will also be taken to their individual governments before a formal schedule is worked out.


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