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Awful planning leaves Sri Lanka in mess  



By Rex Clementine

President J.R Jayewardene in July 1981 pardoned underworld kingpin Gonawala Sunil, a convicted rapist.  Just a reminder that Presidential pardons were nothing new. The government didn’t stop there. Sunil was made a Justice of Peace. Thirty years later, Sri Lanka’s selectors borrowed a leaf out of the ex-President’s book. They appointed Kusal Mendis as the national cricket team’s vice-captain less than a year after he was arrested and released on bail for causing a motor accident in Panadura killing a 64-year-old man.

SLC gave thumbs up while Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa ratified it. Today, all three would not touch Mendis with a barge pole.

Into the bargain, Kusal had lost his place in the side. He was out of form and there were concerns about his off the field demeanour. Still the selectors thought he was the best bet to be groomed as our next leader.

We keep hearing that Kuasl has got talent and all but talent alone will not help you succeed. There are other ingredients like discipline, hard work and commitment.

Both Danushka Gunathilaka and Niroshan Dickwella are serial offenders and very little effort was made by powers that be to put the players in their places. Hence, we are faced with today’s shame where Sri Lankan cricket has become the laughing stock in front of the public.

It is earnestly hoped that SLC deals with the trio firmly. Another slap on the wrist due to club or other affiliations is only going to do the game more harm. The signals that you are getting from Maitland Place are mixed. Here’s why?

If you wonder who was the last Sri Lankan player to be sent home from a tour, it was Jeffrey Vandersay. A night out in St. Lucia during Sri Lanka’s tour of West Indies cost him dearly. He has not represented Sri Lanka for two years but suddenly he is back in the reckoning now ahead of the India series as he has entered the Bio Secure bubble. Has he done anything significant to merit selections? That’s not the case. So why all of a sudden go back to someone who has a colourful history when it comes to discipline?

When Sri Lanka left for England, you sensed this was going to be a 6-0 affair. But then, England did not field their best team. There’s no Ben Stokes and Joffra Archer while Jos Buttler and Jason Roy have appeared sparingly.  

Even then you would say that England are too strong and you can understand Sri Lanka’s struggle. But surely, we could have done much better. We made some strange decisions on tour and our think tank has been exposed. Both selectors and management have little clue on what has happened in the last two or three years and they have failed to keep pace with the game globally.

Not just Kusal Mendis as vice-captain, even their choice for captain was rather strange. Kusal Janith Perera did not captain Royal. He was vice-captain to Yasitha Abeykoon in 2009, a remarkable year for Royal. After school, KJP joined Colts Cricket Club and has remained there for 12 years now. He succeeded Angelo Mathews as captain but has skippered the club for barely three games or so.

So on what basis you pick him to captain the side? If it is experimental what you do is that you hand him the captaincy in one format. But KJP was given both ODI and T-20 sides’ leadership when there was already Dasun Shanaka who had skippered the side to a series win in Pakistan against world’s number one ranked team. As Kumar Sangakkara once said, like God, selectors move about in mysterious ways.

When Dimuth Karunaratne was appointed captain for the last World Cup, he had not played an ODI for more than four years. But the selectors then had very good reason. Sri Lanka were struggling to bat out the full 50 overs and Dimuth was expected to bat through the innings, a role he did to perfection. But all of a sudden he is sacked as skipper and dropped from the side. Again old problems resurface as Sri Lanka are not able to bat 50 overs in England.

What’s the toughest position to bat in cricket? There will be many opinions but most would agree that it is number three.  There’s this promising young cricketer Charith Asalanka who makes his debut in Chester-le-Street and where does he bat?  Number three.  Who’s batting for England there? One bloke by the name of Joe Root. Who’s batting for India in that position? There’s someone called Virat Kohli? What about Australia?  Oh, they have got Steven Smith. And Pakistan? Well, they have world’s number one ranked batsman in Babar Azam. Pramodaya Wickramasinghe gets a debutant to bat at number three! That was one of the most bizarre decisions you have seen in cricket.

You feel for players like Asalanka and Oshada Fernando. The whole world is laughing at them but the problem doesn’t lie with them.

It is earnestly hoped that at least now without wasting further time that authorities invest on the Inter-Provincial competition. Officials in order to show solidarity with clubs avoid the Provincial tournament like the plague and if we continue to do so the world will keep laughing at us.


Harry Kane has England’s goal-scoring record, but he really needs trophies



Harry Kane will be central to England’s hopes of ending their trophy drought

Harry Kane has eclipsed Wayne Rooney to become England’s all-time top goal scorer, but he is still battling to avoid the same fate as his predecessor.Rooney was among the first to congratulate the 29-year-old striker after his record-breaking 54th goal in Thursday’s 2-1 win over Italy, a moment that has been inevitable for some time given Kane’s potency yet was no less historic when it finally arrived.

The chase further intertwined two players whose connection dates back to March 2015, when Kane replaced Rooney for his debut in a European Championship qualifier against Lithuania at Wembley. Rooney had already scored; Kane took 79 seconds to hit the net himself. Later that year, Rooney beat Sir Bobby Charlton’s 45-year record (49 goals) and was presented with a golden boot by Charlton. Afterwards, he gave a speech in the dressing room.

“I said that I hoped the young players in the squad would come close to the record themselves and even be able to surpass me.” Rooney told The Times on Friday. “Harry had scored only three England goals at that point, but I said those words because I knew he could do it. Even then, with only four caps under his belt, I knew he could become England’s greatest scorer if he kept going the way he was and I wanted to give him encouragement.”

Rooney has been on hand ever since to offer Kane guidance and advice, but his England career also serves as a warning. He scored his record-setting 53rd and final international goal in England’s humiliating Euro 2016 defeat to Iceland — the chasm between individual and collective achievement never wider in the striker’s lifetime.

Rooney scored just once in three World Cups, never able to produce his devastating best on the biggest stage and forever living in the shadow of his teenage self who burst onto the scene at Euro 2004 with such force before his metatarsal injury and a penalty shootout ended England’s hopes in the quarterfinals against Portugal.

His regret over never winning anything with his country is replicated by many of the so-called “Golden Generation” of which he is a part. Kane will recognise that pain, too, especially having also been on the pitch when England lost to Iceland seven years ago. He already holds the record for most England goals at a tournament finals (12) but what drives him now is silverware.

At least Rooney had an illustrious club career at Manchester United to console him, ending his career with five Premier League titles, three League Cups, and one FA Cup, Champions League, Europa League and FIFA Club World Cup. As well as the all-time scoring record for United (253 goals in 559 games). Kane is now the all-time top goal scorer for Tottenham (recently surpassing Jimmy Greaves with 267 goals in 416 games) and England, but although he is a World Cup Golden Boot winner, he does not possess a solitary team trophy to show for it.

England’s palpable progress under Gareth Southgate — reaching the 2018 World Cup semifinals and Euro 2020 final — has created a sense that they have never been closer to ending a 57-year wait for a major honour, even accounting for the fine margins of tournament football. But they have to take those last steps to realise that potential at Euro 2024.

That task is obviously not solely within Kane’s grasp, so, for now, all he can do is keep leading by example. He would, of course, have preferred to break Rooney’s record by converting that now-infamous second penalty in England’s 2022 World Cup quarterfinal defeat to France, but there was at least some poetic justice in achieving the milestone from another spot-kick in Naples on Thursday.

Nobody can seriously question his mentality these days, but Kane’s determination to set the tone at the start of Euro 2024 qualification led to a superb all-round display against Italy and a fillip for Southgate as he looks to rally the troops for his fourth tournament cycle. Beating their Euro 2020 conquerors Italy away from home for the first time since 1961 is another step towards England breaking down the long-standing inferiority complex that has inhibited them against top opposition. (ESPN)

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Bairstow ruled out of IPL 2023; Australia’s Matthew Short named replacement



Jonny Bairstow swivels for a hit

Jonny Bairstow will not play IPL 2023 as the England wicketkeeper-batter, who plays for Punjab Kings, continues to recover from the freak injury he picked up last September. ESPNcricinfo has learned that uncapped Australian batter Matthew Short will be Bairstow’s replacement for the 2023 season.

Kings, via the BCCI, had been waiting for Bairstow’s exact fitness status from the ECB after he had resumed training in late February as part of his rehab. It is understood the BCCI informed Kings on Saturday to go ahead with the replacement, and the franchise confirmed the news later that day.

This week, Bairstow started batting in the Yorkshire nets and it is understood that he will aim to play a couple of games in the County Championship in May – potentially while keeping wicket – as he aims to reach full fitness in time for England’s next Test on June 1, against Ireland at Lord’s. The ECB are happy with Bairstow’s progress and are confident he will return in time to play a full part in the Ashes, which starts on June 22.

Bairstow broke his left leg and dislocated his ankle on September 2, days before the third and final Test of England’s home series against South Africa. He was playing golf with friends when he slipped and suffered multiple fractures in his fibula, which required a plate to be inserted when he underwent surgery a few days later, and also sustained ligament damage.

He has since missed all the cricket England have played, including the T20 World Cup where he was meant to open with his captain Jos Buttler. He has also missed tours to Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand and Bangladesh, as well as the ILT20 where he was due to play for Abu Dhabi Knight Riders.Brendon McCullum, England’s Test coach, has previously indicated that Bairstow will come straight back into the side when fit, though finding a role for him will not be straightforward since Harry Brook, his replacement at No. 5, has made a stellar start to his international career, with four hundreds in his first six Tests.

Zak Crawley and Ben Foakes appear to be the most vulnerable players in the side, but leaving either out would necessitate a rebalancing of the side and McCullum has also warned against trying to “crowbar people in”.

Recognised as one of the world’s leading all-format batters, Bairstow’s absence is bound to have an impact on Kings’ strategy. Last IPL, Bairstow scored 253 runs in 11 innings, averaging 23.00 with a strike rate of 144.57, with two half-centuries. Initially, it may mean Bhanuka Rajapaksa is given an opportunity. For Short, this will be his first IPL experience. He was the Player of the Tournament at the recent Big Bash League where, opening for Adelaide Strikers, he scored 458 runs – the second-highest in the tournament – at an average of 35.23 and a strike rate of 144.47.

His best performance was an unbeaten 100 in a chase of 230 to beat Hobart Hurricanes. Athletic in the field, Short also is a handy offspinner.He kept his head high while bowling in the powerplay during the BBL and took 11 wickets in all, at an economy of 7.13. An all-format player, Short scored three centuries across first-class and List A cricket during the second half of Australia’s domestic season where he plays for his home state of Victoria.


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Argentina rename national training base after Lionel Messi



Lionel Messi scored his 800th career goal in Argentina’s victory over Panama on Thursday.

Lionel Messi has been honoured by the Argentina Football Association who have renamed the national team’s headquarters after him.Messi, who captained Argentina to as they lifted the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, has made 173 appearances for the Albiceleste since making his debut in 2005.The Paris Saint-Germain forward, along with Argentina FA president Claudio Tapia and national team manager Lionel Scaloni, unveiled a plaque outside the Albiceleste’s training centre on Saturday.

“We experienced a historic day in our Casa de Ezeiza, which from today will be renamed Lionel Andres Messi, in tribute to the best player in the world,” Tapia tweeted.

Argentina’s headquarters are located in Ezeiza, which is 40 minutes away from Buenos Aires city centre.Messi, who scored his 800th career goal in Thursday’s 2-0 friendly win over Panama, was moved by the recognition.

“I’ve been coming here for 20 years, and I have always felt a very special energy,” the former Barcelona star said. “This is very exciting for me. I’m very happy. It’s a very, very special recognition.

“This place is something sensational. Even at the worst times, which I’ve had very bad moments, I would go in and forget everything. I would arrive and feel happy for being in this place and I still feel it. That’s why today I feel very happy that, after so long, this is going to bear my name.”

Messi, 35, had lost three straight finals with Argentina before lifting the Copa America in 2021 after defeating bitter rivals Brazil in the title game.The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner was sensational in Qatar and was voted the player of the tournament after his seven goals and three assists in seven appearances helped Argentina win their first world title in 36 years.

“I think that the tributes have to be done while one is alive, and this is a very special recognition for what this place means,” Messi said. “That it [training centre] bears my name is something very nice.”

Messi, who is one strike shy of scoring his 100th international goal with Argentina, will be back in action with the Albiceleste in Tuesday’s international friendly against Curacao. (ESPN)

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