Central Province Sports Department felicitated reputed coach S.M. Gnanasena Banda at the Central Province Sports Awards ceremony recently. The veteran coach receives his award from Central Province Governor Lalith U Gamage. Jagath Keerthi, Director of Sports of Central Province is also in the picture. (Pic courtesy Anurudhdha Herath Bandara)
Central Province Sports Department felicitates Gnanasena Banda
by Reemus Fernando
Reputed coach S.M. Gnanasena Banda was felicitated by Central Province Sports Department at the Central Province Sports Awards ceremony recently. The mentor behind many top national level athletes, who won international fame during the 90s, Banda is recovering from paralysis which he suffered nearly two decades ago. Although he is not actively involved in training he has spent the past two decades imparting his knowledge to deserving coaches who sought his help. Despite being confined to his home he is still keen on imparting that knowledge. In an interview with ‘The Island’ Banda said that the best way to felicitate him was to obtain his knowledge to educate the current crop of coaches.
“I told the director at the awards ceremony that the best they could do to felicitate me was to gain my knowledge,” Banda told The Island.
Regarded by athletic officials as one of the best coaches, Banda trained many an athlete win medals at regional international competitions and to reach Olympic qualifying standards in his heyday. Banda who once competed against the likes of Sunil Gunawardena as an athlete had Yogananda Wijesundara and Lakshman de Alwis as his peers in coaching.
Banda served during an era when Sri Lanka was looking to improve standards of athletic performances. He was different to many of his peers who specialised in specific disciplines.
Banda’s charges were athletes specialised in varying disciplines from sprints to marathons and hurdles to throws. When coaches opt to specialize in a selected group of disciplines (sprint & hurdles, middle & long distance, jumps or throws) Banda’s specialty was the ability to train almost any athletics discipline.
Sriyantha Dissanayake, a household name in athletics, was his charge when he won a medal double at the Asian Games. Dissanayake is the last Sri Lankan male athlete to have won a medal in an Asian Games 100 metres.
Banda had the knowledge to peak a sprinter as well as a marathoner at the right time. V.K.L. Samarasinghe, another of his trainees, was probably the best home-trained marathoner the country produced. Current national marathon record holder Indrajith Cooray in the UK and legendary distance runner S.L.B. Rosa at the Wisconsin Park Side University (USA) had foreign training when they reached their personal best performances and qualified for Olympics. Samarasinghe who was the closest to Rosa’s long standing record in his prime, slashed massive chunks off his personal best under Banda’s guidance to qualify for Olympics.
Long jumpers Sujith Rohitha and Anusha Kariyawasam reached national number one position under his guidance. The latter owned the women’s national record while Rohitha almost had it under his belt.
Olympic thrower Sumeda Ranasinghe’s coach Pradeep Nishantha was under Banda’s stewardship when he held the national record.
One of the longstanding records in athletics is the men’s 400 metres hurdles national record. Banda’s trainee Harijan Ratnayake established the record on his way to winning the Asian Championship silver in Jakarta. His 49.44 seconds feat still remains unshaken two decades after it was established. Banda’s charge was the last Sri Lankan male hurdler to have earned qualifying standards for Olympics.
His services were not limited to athletics. He was also involved in looking after fitness of up and coming cricketers in the 90s. Despite being handicapped Banda is eager to educate coaches who are willing to serve sports.
“I am keen on educating coaches who are willing to serve,” said the septuagenarian.
S.M.G. Banda suffered his first stroke just after the National Sports Festival in 2001. Some of the athletics disciplines have not witnessed an improvement since then. His absence in the field of coaching has left a huge vacuum hard to fill.
Schools cricket’s age limit change from Under-19 to 20 just not numbers
Will a change of age limit benefit cricketers aspiring to represent the country at the ICC Youth World Cup where Sri Lanka is the only Test playing nation in the South Asian region to have not tasted victory in this more than three decades old tournament.
by Reemus Fernando
Schools cricket has been in limbo for more than six months now due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Though there had been no action discussions were underway to find means of improving standards. One of the suggestions received by an eminent panel consisting of former national cricketers is to change the age limit of the premier schools cricket tournament from Under-19 to Under-20. When some school sports, including rugby and track and field have Under-20 as their highest age group then why not cricket? Will a change of age limit benefit cricketers aspiring to represent the country at the ICC Youth World Cup where Sri Lanka is the only Test playing nation in the South Asian region to have not tasted victory in this more than three decades old tournament.
“There is something wrong in our system. Former Sri Lanka Under-19 coach Naveed Nawaz could guide Bangladesh to Youth World Cup victory. It was something he could not do with a team here. You have to seriously take note of our Under-19 cricket structure. An age limit change will help our young cricketers get mature. It will also help reduce the gap between the Under-23 tournament conducted by Sri Lanka Cricket and the highest age group tournament of the schools association,” says Dinesh Kumarasinghe, the head of Sports of S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. Kumarasinghe has been involved in schools cricket as a coach for nearly three decades now.
The suggestion to change the age limit is learnt to have come from influential schools cricket coaches who are eager to make amends for dropping standards.
It is not the first time that such a change had been suggested. Four years ago the Ministry of Education changed the age limit only to withdraw the circular within months for reasons best known to them.
The last time the tournament had been played as an Under-20 tournament was nearly one and a half decade ago. It is widely believed in schools cricket circles that the change (to Under-20) was to facilitate a politico’s son to captain his alma mater. That Under-20 rule lasted only a year and the tournament reverted to Under-19.
“The suggestion to increase the age limit to Under-20 had been opposed vehemently at SLSCA meetings on many previous occasions due to the administrative difficulties and problems relating to maintaining discipline,” a former official of the SLSCA says.
Currently the Under-19 tournament is played by cricketers who are not over the age of 20 on September 1 of the concluding year of the tournament. Unlike tournaments of other sports cricket’s highest age group tournament had been played for decades from September to April.
“Though the tournament is called Under-19, we have players over the age of 19 when the tournament concludes in April. It is actually an Under-20 tournament already. Why do you need to further extend it,” a former official of the SLSCA questions.
If not for the Covid 19 pandemic the 2020/21 Under-19 tournament would have commenced by now with players born after September 1, 2001 being eligible to compete. Which means some players would be already 19 plus when the tournament starts.
Those who are pushing for the change argue that by extending the age limit (from September 1 to April 1) more players, who are still in school would be eligible to compete.
When contacted, Thilak Waththuhewa, the president of the SLSCA said that the proposal to extend the age limit will soon be discussed at the SLSCA Executive Committee meeting and the decision will be known sooner rather than later.
A former official who had served at the SLSCA when the age limit was extended to Under-20 one and half decades ago said that a number of schools found it difficult to address discipline issues that year. “We received complaints against players who had already found employment at private firms still playing for schools,” says the former official.
However, this time the decision to change the age limit has been put forward for discussion and a knowledgeable panel of former cricketers are considering the pros and cons. Enthusiasts believe that the decision would be taken with the best interest of country’s cricket in mind.
It should be noted here that the ICC’s Under-19 age limit date for the Youth World Cup is also compatible with Sri Lanka’s schools tournament age limit date of September 1.
13 year old Sandamini, Asian Youth medallist Isuru best athletes at Kalutara
Shihara Sandamini Silva and Isuru Kaushalya Abeywardena were adjudged the best athlete of the Kalutara District Inter Division Championship held at Bandaragama.
National Sports Festival- District Championships
by Reemus Fernando
The 13-year-old long jumper Shihara Sandamini Silva and Asian Youth medallist Isuru Kaushalya Abeywardena won the best athlete titles of the Kalutara District Inter Division Athletics Championship of the National Sports Festival concluded at Bandaragama on Sunday.
The two young athletes who have already excelled at All Island Schools championships won the coveted titles against a host of senior athletes.
The Good Shepherd Convent, Panadura athlete came almost close to matching her personal best with a feat of 5.20 metres in the women’s long jump. The athlete trained by veteran coach Prasanna Perera, has a personal best of 5.24 metres achieved at the same ground last year.
Sandamini, hogged the limelight at schools national level when she established the Under-12 long jump record in 2018. Yesterday, instead of competing in the Under-16 age category, Sandamini opted for the Open category and competing against the seniors produced the best jump which was also adjudged the best performance of the meet.
Incidentally, the Under-16 age category event was won by Harini Adithya also from Good Shepherd Convent.
Isuru Kaushalya who won the medley relay silver medal at the Asian Youth Athletics Championship in 2019 lived up to his reputation winning both the 200 metres and the 400 metres. Kaushalya, who was nursing an injury towards the latter part of 2019, was in sublime form producing a stunning 22.00 seconds performance to win the 200 metres on Saturday. The athlete trained by D.R. Munasinghe backed up his feat with another notable 50.5 seconds performance to win the 400 metres yesterday.
“I am looking forward to reach 47.6 seconds before the end of this year,” Kaushalya told The Island after the victory.
Kalushalya edged out senior athlete Dinusha Deshan to the second place to win the 400 metres. Pasindu Malshan who was placed third in the 400 metres, compensated for the defeat winning the 100 metres. The St. Peter’s College sprinter clocked 11.4 seconds to win on a wet track.
The men’s 800 metres was won by Mithila Viraj who beat training partner Pasindu Munasinghe to the second place. Later the duo teamed up with Isuru Nethsara and Isuru Lakshan to win the open men’s 4×400 metres relay for the Beruwala Division.
In the women’s 400 metres Githmi Sanjana won gold for Beruwala, while Ishin Praveesha from Kalutara Division won the 100 metres dash. K.M. Buddhika won the 200 metres sprint.
Kalutara Division were the winners of the District Championship.
Sorry state of South Africa cricket
by Rex Clementine
Most players will not pick South Africa as their favourite destination but most cricket reporters would pick it. There are many reasons. A vast country, South Africa has much to offer. While most love the wildlife and weather, others prefer the variety of beers and meat. The visa process is the easiest while it literally takes you less than five minutes to complete the accreditation process. Like Sri Lankans, the people in South Africa are the most friendly. Then their cricketing centers are right up there with other world class facilities be it Kingsmead in Durban, Newlands in Cape Town or Wanderers in Johannesburg.
But cricket in South Africa is facing hard times at present. Some observers have even pointed out that the country is facing the threat of suspension from the International Cricket Council due to government interference. If the unthinkable happens, it will be a black day for one of the greatest sporting nations.
Three decades ago, when South Africa were readmitted to the ICC following the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, which ended the apartheid regime, there was new found hope.
The cricketing world witnessed Alan Donald for the first time during the 1992 World Cup. He was so quick and earned the nickname ‘White Lightning’
A year later, when South Africa made their maiden visit to Sri Lanka, the players had discussed at length how they were going to tackle Donald. But they were blown away by someone called Brett Schultz, whose left arm thunderbolts were unplayable.
As long as Mandela was in power, he ensured fair play. Mandela was a generous man. He was perhaps too honest. The South African constitution allowed him two terms. But he decided to retire after serving just one term. His successors were not so generous.
The racial quota introduced in South Africa has had a devastating effect in sports. Of the 11 South Africans in a cricket team, there can be only five whites. That is for international cricket and the chances of whites playing domestic cricket is even more less. Hence, the whites have moved in massive numbers to greener pastures in England, Australia and New Zealand. As a result, we have seen the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Marnus Labuschagne and Grant Elliott playing the sport for other countries.
The worst is that white South Africans giving up their international status and moving to the UK to play First Class cricket taking a KOLPAK deal. A KOLPAK deal briefly means that countries that have trade agreements with European Union (EU) also have same rights as member countries of EU.
Duanne Olivier debuted for South Africa when Sri Lanka toured that country. He bowled some hostile spells and Sri Lankans were in full awe given the pace he generated. But he opted for a KOLPAK deal giving up his chances of playing for South Africa. That was in 2019. In 2018, Morne Morkel turned KOLPAK and in 2017 Kyle Abbott had done the same. These are some of the finest fast bowlers produced by South Africa.
South African authorities don’t have to force it on the system to have a certain number of non white players. Equal opportunities for everyone means fine talents will emerge. Take the case of Hashim Amla, one of the finest batsman to play the game. Or go and ask Kumar Sangakkara who among current fast bowlers he hates facing. You can be assured his answer will be Kagiso Rabada. The quota system has only created unwanted issues. A non-white player effectively carries the stigma of representing his country not on merit. Not just players, even those none whites who were in administration had splendid careers. Haroon Lorgat was initially Chairman of Selectors and then went onto become CEO of the board and headed the ICC. There was also Lerato Malekutu, the long standing Media Manager of the team who did a splendid job.
Cricket South Africa recently has been unstable. In the last three years, the board has had four CEOs. They have also lost several sponsors in the last few years and could be heading for a financial crisis.
A vibrant South Africa is very much needed for the sport to thrive. With the Big Three again flexing their muscle, it is South Africa that can lead other smaller nations like Sri Lanka and Pakistan to keep the sport strong.
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