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Avishka on Sri Lanka Under-19 prospects

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by Reemus Fernando

Sri Lanka Under 19 squad comprising 26 players concluded a three weeks long training camp on Wednesday. It was the first training opportunity for junior cricketers after the Covid 19 pandemic hampered sports for more than a year.

Sri Lanka Under-19 will meet their Bangladesh counterparts this month before encountering England in November. The squad of 26 players will continue to train for the ICC Youth World Cup which will be held early next year.

The Island interviewed the Under 19 head coach Avishka Gunawardene after the training camp conducted in a biosecure bubble concluded. Here are the excerpts.

Unlike many previous Under-19 coaches you had only a month to train the team for a series against Bangladesh and will get only a couple of months to prepare them for the ICC Youth World Cup. How do you see the challenge at hand and how has the training gone so far? 

“I am very happy with the way the team improved during the last couple of weeks and everyone was happy about the way the camp was held. It is a big challenge. Because the players haven’t played any cricket for some time. The Under-19 boys are playing international cricket at least after 18 months. It is challenging because we had only a month to prepare and we have to get the combinations right. We are playing (Bangladesh) to win the series but that is where we will be trying two or three combinations to get them right. For the World Cup, there may be around 100 days to prepare. There is another Under-19 tour planned for November which is England. Asia Cup is in December but it is not confirmed. If that does not happen we will have to get the combinations right during the England tour before the World Cup. That is the only chance we have to get it right.”

When an Under-19 coach is selected he has a general idea of the talent pool that will come under his supervision. But with no schools tournaments conducted due to Covid 19 pandemic, you may not have had an idea about the players before you started to work with them. Can you explain how you cope up with that? 

“I have experience in the system. I have been in the system for a very long time. I first went on a tour as a schoolboy in 1992. Since then I have not left the system and I have not left cricket. During my previous tenure, when I was with SLC, I was with the Under-19 team in 2015 and 2016 and we made it to the semi-finals in the World Cup. It is not new to me. But because of the pandemic, there is a challenge. By the time I took over the Under 19, there was a pool of 26 picked by the national selectors. The selectors had a camp in Kandy for 75 players. They had played matches and I am sure the national selectors would have seen them. During the last month, we had a camp and it was a good opportunity for me to get to know how talented they are. And I think that I have a good idea about the players now and what their capabilities are. The challenge I have now is to get the players to play together and jell together because they have not been playing together.

The selectors had included several players from new Division I team Devapathiraja College Rathgama who generally play on matting wickets and Malsha Tharupathi a player from Division III school- Madampa Central. What are your thoughts on them? 

The most exciting was the 16-year-old spinner(Tharupathi). This is the first time that he actually bowled on a turf wicket. What I saw in the last few weeks is how he improved, how confident he is. I am very excited to see him. He can play in another World Cup. You don’t find 16-year-old right-arm leg spinners very often. I am pretty excited about him and there is Jeewaka Shasheen (from Devapathiraja) who looks very good. He has a lovely technique and a nice temperament. He is another guy who I will keep an eye on for the future.

How did the young boys got accustomed to living in a biosecure bubble for more than three weeks? 

“It was the first time that I too went into a bubble after I took over. It was all about keeping the players occupied, keeping their minds free, letting them enjoy each other’s company. If you don’t do that it is very difficult to survive in a bubble. It is important to keep them together, keep their friendship going, keep them entertained. We had programmes arranged in the evenings like quiz programmes and in-house games and stuff like that. I am very happy how the training camp went and they adjusted pretty well.”

You will get only limited-overs matches during both the Bangladesh and England series. Isn’t it a concern as the players will not be able to compete in the innings format? 

“I firmly believe that younger players should play the longer version of cricket more to improve their skills. But at this point, they haven’t had any cricket to play. Since there had been no cricket in the country and since there is a World Cup in less than 100 days I think it is relevant (that we play limited-overs cricket). Basically, the players will have only ten matches before they go for the World Cup. In terms of preparation for the World Cup, it is important to play white-ball cricket.

Not many fast bowlers who excel at the junior level have not gone on to represent Sri Lanka at the senior level. But in Matheesha Pathirana, you have a speedster who has experience playing franchise cricket before even making it to the senior national level. How do you see his future prospects?

“It is interesting. Although he has played one franchise tournament and played in the last World Cup, he has played very little cricket during the last six to seven months. It is important for him to keep his rhythm. He is unorthodox and is an exciting talent. He can bowl fast. With all that he needs to have match practice. That is the most important thing that we are looking at. He has been improving from the time we started the camp. I hope he will show more improvement as we get closer to the World Cup and he will be a good asset there.

The fast bowling department has been the weak link of many junior teams when Youth World Cups were played in conditions supporting quick bowlers. How confident are you of your fast bowling department?

“I am very happy with the fast bowling unit we have in the Under-19 squad. One of the plus points is that there are two or three fast bowlers who can bat well. They are not only giving fast bowling options but add value to the team by coming down the order and adding runs. I hope we can peak them at the right time and go on to play the next level.

 Since the team is likely to play only in local conditions before the World Cup how are you going to prepare the team for the challenges in West Indies? 

“I have been to the Caribbean a few times. The last time was in 2018. When I was the head coach of the ‘A’ team we went there. From my experience, it is not very different from Sri Lankan conditions. The weather is pretty much similar. And wickets are also quite similar to Sri Lankan conditions. It might actually help spinners from my experience. But they might prepare better wickets since it is a World Cup and an ICC event. I am not, too much worried about West Indies’ conditions.



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Quarter-finals from today 

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Neyara Weerawansa

Under 19 Division III Tier ‘B’ Cricket  

The quarter-finals of the Under 19 Inter Schools Division III Tier ‘B’ cricket tournament conducted by Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association will commence with the Maris Stella College, Thimbirigaskatuwa meeting Wickramabahu National School, Gampola at Wickramashila National School ground Giriulla today.

Quarter-finals line up

 

November 30:

Maris Stella, Thimbirigaskatuwa V Wickramabahu NS, Gampola at Giriulla 

December 1:

Ananda NS, Puttalam V Sri Sumangala, Kelaniya at Giriulla 

December 2:

Hindu College, Matale V St. Michael’s College, Batticalloa at Polonnaruwa 

December 3:

D.S. Senanayake, Ampara V Pannala NS at Polonnaruwa 

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Neyara to meet Anjalike in the women’s singles final  

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Aahil Kaleel

Neyara Weerawansa beat top seed Savini Jayasuriya in the semi-final to book a final berth in the women’s singles final against Anjalika Kurera in the 106th Colombo Championships at the Sri Lanka Tennis Association courts on Monday.

The semi-final, which recommenced on Monday after being interrupted by wet weather on the previous day, the British School Colombo player scored 6-1, 5-7, 10-7 to oust last year finalist Jayasuriya.

She will now encounter Anjalika Kurera in the final.

Aahil Kaleel Under 12 champion   

Meanwhile, S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia player Aahil Kaleel beat Methika Wickramasinghe to win the Under 12 boys singles title on Sunday. He scored 1-4, 4-2, 10-7 in the final after edging out Pasindu Rukunnayake (quarter-final) and Chaminda Abeysinghe (semis).

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Hayleys crowned winners of MCA premier league

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Hayleys were crowned the winners of the MCA Premier League.

Hayleys Group Recreation Club (HGRC) led by Avishka Fernando were crowned as the “League” winners of the 28th Singer-MCA Premier League which came to conclusion with a glittering awards presentation held at the MCA Legends New Wing on Thursday.

Though the tournament had a pre-mature ending, Hayleys by virtue of being unbeaten led the table of points at the point when the tournament was stopped. The MCA Tournament Committee with the consent of the rest of the three teams, decided to award the league title to Hayleys.

Hayleys, playing only their third season in the MCA Premier League, won the T20 title under Avishka Fernando in the previous season.

On their way to the title Hayleys beat HNB (by five wickets), CDB Finance (by 96 runs), John Keells (by two wickets) and HNB in their return game (by two wickets).

Avishka Fernando captained the title winning Hayleys team.

Hayleys squad included Avishka Fernando (Captain), Prabath Jayasuriya (VC), Dilruwan Perera, Kithruwan Vithanage, Chathuranga de Silva, Ron Chandraguptha, Lahiru Samarakoon, Nimesha Gunasinghe, Pasindu Thirimadura, Kavishka Anjula, Santhush Gunatillake, Kalana Perera, Vishad Randika, Navindu Fernando, Mohamed Shamaaz, Lahiru Tirimanne, Binura Fernando, Lasith Embuldeniya, Thashik Perera, Kabil Kapilraj, Lakshina Rodrigo and Sahan Nanayakkara. They were coached by Nishantha Weerasinghe with Vimukthi Deshapriya as the assistant coach. Pramoth Fernando was the manager.

Awards were given away by the Chief Guest, CEO, Singer Group Companies, Mahesh Wijewardene, Marketing Director, Singer SL, PLC, Shamil Perera and MCA Officials, President, Nalin Wickremesinghe, Senior Vice President and Chairman Tournament Committee, Mahesh de Alwis and Vice President Sirosha Gunatillake.

It was a memorable moment for Hayleys Group Chairman and CEO, Mohan Pandithage, Group Head HR, Dharshi Thalpahewa and the HGRC Officials – Jeramy Anandappa (President), Mohan Fernando (VP) and Ruchina Jayatillaka (Co Ordinator), who were present at the event.

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