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Bearding the lion in its own den

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36th Anniversary of Sri Lanka’s first ever Test match at Lord’s – Part 2

by Rohan Wijeyaratna

By now it was clear Gower and the selectors had grievously erred in under estimating the visitors, while over-estimating themselves. Far from being overawed, Sri Lanka had risen to the occasion and set in motion a prolonged leather hunt, that was fast becoming an embarrassment to England. As they drearily dragged themselves on to the field for the third successive day at Lord’s, the truth slowly dawned upon all, that England hadn’t seen off even half the visiting side yet.

The only wicket for the day

But let’s not get too far ahead of the story. The wicket of Ranatunga midway through the second afternoon was the only success England enjoyed on day two. Possessing a composure and temperament that was well beyond his years, Ranatunga played a commendable hand for one so young in consolidating the Sri Lankan middle order. He enjoyed some luck along the way when Gower spilled him in the gully when on 66, but by lunch on day two, Sri Lanka were healthily placed at 271 for three, with Ranatunga on 74 and Wettimuny on 137. England had toiled hard in the morning session for no return.

Reputedly, the English crowds are the fairest in the world. It is a repute they wear very well. On this occasion they were genuine in their appreciation of the Lankan batting, even though it was at the expense of their own team. Tragically, with a Test hundred at Lord’s beckoning him, Ranatunga playing forward to Agnew, allowed a shaft of light to remain between bat and pad and was castled through it. He had made 84 in 248 minutes of batting, having added 148 for the fourth wicket. Sri Lanka were 292 for four, when Duleep Mendis walked in.

 

 

Unfinished business

 

Mendis knew he had some unfinished business in England. As previously mentioned (The Island – 23rd May, 2020), he could have won his side a famous victory nine years before, in the inaugural Prudential World Cup, but by knocking himself out via his own outer edge to a Thomson ‘screamer’ at a time when he had the Australian attack by its throat, he failed to fulfill that dream. That was when fate intervened and prevented what threatened to be a major tournament upset, when he and Sunil Wettimuny were involved in a furious attack on Ian Chappell’s men. Now at Lord’s, Mendis had Sunil’s younger brother for company and the stage could not have been better set for him to deliver a vintage ‘Mendis Special’. The wicket held no terrors; the bowling was near pedestrian; his team was well placed, and the man at the other end was looking like the Rock of Gibraltar by the minute! In short, Mendis could not have asked for a better setting to make the stage, indubitably his!

 

A man apart

 

England on the other hand seemed reminded that Mendis met his nemesis in 1975 whilst hooking. Thanks possibly to some old rope well swallowed, their bowlers determined they would give him a working over, with the short ball. Accordingly, Allott began with a hurried delivery that pitched and arrived head high to Mendis on an inconvenient off stump trajectory. Somewhat taken aback and definitely hurried, the batsman managed a reflex hook down to long leg – a shot of no great conviction. This encouraged all other leather flingers to smack their lips, dreaming of possibilities. Soon it was Agnew pitching short at Mendis. Back and across went the portly skipper, picking up the ball from his off and hooking it down to long leg for four. Agnew bowled slightly short again and Mendis – now going back, smoked it venomously wide of extra cover for four, to bring up the 300. With each shot he now played, Mendis assumed greater authority. Agnew next bowled a more fullish length and Mendis drilled it right back at him, like a blast from a cannon. It was a stinging blow and technically a chance, though Agnew had no hope in hell of catching it. A back footed square slash to a wide, short, Agnew delivery seemed almost violently dismissive. Everyone by now had come to realize they were watching a very special passage of play in the match, and a very special person enacting it. Everyone had also begun to realize that Duleep Mendis was a man apart, from those who preceded him.

But England hadn’t still lost hope. On came England’s man for all seasons – Ian Botham; now specifically tasked to remove this bothersome Mendis. It took no great intelligence to figure Botham would try and bounce out Mendis, and it took no even greater intelligence to figure, Mendis would accept the challenge. The crowd was expectant. The moment of truth had arrived.

 

Mendis versus Botham

 

A languid drive from Wettimuny to deep point brought him on to 154; the highest score by any batsman in his country’s first Test in England. It also brought Mendis on strike. Botham resuming, ran in and delivered. It was a mean bouncer on the off stump and curving in; head high and rising. There was a flurry of activity and in the blink of an eye the ball had disappeared into the Mound stand backward of square for six! The momentarily stunned crowd now broke into loud cheer. Not to be outdone, Wettimuny in the next over from Ellison, gloriously executed a cracking cover drive off his back foot to bring up his best score in Test cricket – 160 off 383 balls in 514 minutes of batting. The ball was now back in Botham’s hand for the following over.

Botham with his best days of pace behind him, was still, stubborn as a mule. He hadn’t probably heard that in the far outposts of the great empire, there were men who were no respecters of reputations. Possibly with such a bulldog mindset, Botham ran in and bounced again. Out came the hook shot in a flash; six more over square leg and into the Mound Stand! Although visibly wounded, Botham was still not ready to give up. Repositioning the two men he already had for the shot on the leg side boundary, he bounced one last time. It was on a middle and leg line and inconveniently close to Mendis’ head. Mendis undaunted, hooked yet again! The ball evaded the two men on the fence and ended up in the Mound stand for a third successive time. A visibly angry Botham was now seen muttering some ‘unprintables’ at his captain, for no doubt persisting with this daft idea of bouncing Mendis out. The Lankan skipper had now moved to 49, hammering three sixes off Botham in two overs and leaving no one in any doubt as to who was bossing the show in this particular contest. With each of his blows over the ropes, the crowd erupted, and with the third, the cheering rose to a crescendo. This was sensational stuff! Duleep Mendis the Lankan lion had bearded the British lion in its own den! At tea, Sri Lanka were 370 for four with Mendis on 52 and Wettimuny on 173.

 

Ran ‘em ragged

 

It took only 14 balls after tea for play to be suspended through bad light for 94 long minutes. Hence when play resumed, close of play was extended well beyond six o’clock. Between Mendis’ arrival and the eventual close of play, the score had surged by another 142 runs with Mendis making exactly one hundred of them. They came off 112 deliveries and mostly in fading light; sometimes almost too dark to recognize the dusky Sri Lankan skipper from 22 yards away! Thrice Mendis refused the offer of light and finally when he accepted, it was only after he had reached three figures. By now he had shown that between him and those that came before, there was a clear distinction. While most of the others applied grace and beauty from a bygone era around their technical correctness, Mendis’ method remained simple. He either blocked it or smashed it. And there was nothing vulgar about it at all. It was just that when in the mood he had this god given ability to reduce any bowling attack to pulp, without slogging. Simply put, Mendis ran England ragged. He was without doubt, the master of all he surveyed, that afternoon.

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Tokyo Cement Group renews Foundation of Goodness partnership

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Tokyo Cement Group pledged its support to the Foundation of Goodness for another year, to extend their multi-prongged activities aimed at rural cricket development. 2020 marks the fifth year of partnership between the two organizations, who have united to unearth talented young cricketers from rural Sri Lanka.

The Company’s long-standing partnership with the Foundation of Goodness (FoG) established cricket training facilities, that included upgrading two school grounds in Hikkaduwa and Seenigama, to undergo formal cricket training. Hikkaduwa Sri Sumangala MCC Lords and Seenigama Sri Wimala Buddhi Surrey Oval, are the two cricket grounds that are managed and operated by FoG under the patronage of Tokyo Cement Group, where regular training sessions are held. Budding school cricketers in the area are welcomed to enroll themselves for regular Cricket Coaching Camps conducted free of charge by reputed coaches at the two training centers, that have indoor and outdoor practice nets.

Founded on the vision of Kushil Gunasekera, Founder/Chief Trustee of the Foundation of Goodness, the Tokyo Cement Group’s partnership intends to make a positive impact on the lives of talented young cricketers from remote backgrounds who have very limited access to quality training facilities to pursue their dreams. Anura de Silva, Director of Sports at the Foundation of Goodness heads the Cricket Academy together with a pool of coaches and qualified physical trainers. The special monthly training sessions are conducted by renowned cricket coach Hemantha Devapriya, a former Head Coach of Sri Lanka’s National Ladies’ Cricket Team, with his team of cricket coaches. From time to time, the Academy gets the service of famed local and international cricket stars who get involved in the program on a voluntary basis.

Since inception, the Academy has so far trained over 1,100 promising young cricketers from nearly 20 regional schools in the area. The program also conducts an elite coaching camp for star performers, where they get to hone their innate talents under specialized supervision. The Southern Coaching Camps produced several top-notch National U19 Players who now represent various Division I clubs in the country. In August 2017, the partnership extended the Cricket Coaching Camps to the North and East, conducting programs in Jaffna, Killinochchi, Oddusuddan, Mankulam, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Mannar, Batticaloa, Kalmunai and Ampara, to unearth young cricketing sensations.

Speaking on the impact the Cricket Academy makes on the lives of young school boys and girls, Anura De Silva pointed out that, having access to top quality training facilities under the wings of world class coaching expertise is itself a great contribution to uplift the future of Sri Lankan cricket. He also said the success of the Academy lies in allowing these novices to maintain and polish up their natural style in either bowling, batting or fielding, so that they grow in confidence, as much as in their skill while undergoing the coaching program.

The number of cricketers who have risen from District / Provincial level to various National-level teams speak volumes for the Academy’s ability to unearth unique cricketing talent. Among them is Navod Paranavithana who is the Sri Lanka U-19 World Cup opener and captain of the Mahinda College Cricket Team, Galle, who shattered the batting records by becoming the first schoolboy to score a quadruple century in a school match. Navod joined the Cricket Academy at U-13 level and is a recipient of a MCC Cricket scholarship offered through The Foundation of Goodness. Kavisha Dilhari is another 17-year-old cricketing prodigy hailing from the Academy, who created the record as the youngest school girl cricketer to score a triple century at school level and also became the youngest person to represent Sri Lanka as part of the National Ladies Cricket Team. Furthermore, four young cricketers from the Seenigama Ladies Cricket Squad were selected to play for Sri Lanka at the Women’s Cricket World Cup 2020 in Australia.

With the extension of the partnership this year, Tokyo Cement Group and the Foundation of Goodness will continue the training sessions that gives schoolboy and schoolgirl cricketers the chance to hone their dormant skills. During this year, FoG has completed 12 coaching camps in the South, maintaining the training momentum of the players while looking after the facilities in their top condition, despite the many disruptions that occurred. Anura and his team of FoG coaches, together with Hemantha Devapriya and his team of coaches remain fully committed to this far-reaching initiative with the patronage of Tokyo Cement Group, whose objective is to provide the youth new opportunities to polish up their talent in the game of cricket. The Foundation of Goodness conducts a wide range of holistic development programs aimed at bridging the urban rural gap, that touch the lives of over 31,500 beneficiaries annually, free of cost, from over 400 villages island-wide. The two organizations united their forces in this endeavor with the shared objective of creating foundations for the future generations to become well-rounded leaders.

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Plight of school coaches Some working as pump attendants

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by Reemus Fernando

His love for the game of cricket forced Aman Uditha to take up one of the toughest coaching assignments at Vijayaba National School, Hungama (Hambantota District), a place that does not have a strong cricket culture to attract highly qualified coaches. The school which has produced a pace bowler in the Sri Lanka Under-19 team in recent times is one of the many lower division schools struggling to pay their coaches after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coaches in almost all the Division III and a majority of Division II cricket playing schools and some Division I schools are paid by the School Development Societies (SDS), which largely rely on contributions from parents. Schools have found it difficult to sustain these funds due to the Covid 19 pandemic.

Many such schools have either totally stopped paying their coaches or have reduced their salaries by big margins, forcing them to look elsewhere for a living. Unlike well-established schools, those in the lower divisions depend on a single coach to train all age group teams in the school. Uditha is responsible for coaching the Under-13, 15 and 17 teams of Vijayaba National School.

Affairs in some of the premier Division I cricket playing schools too have fallen to the same level as the underprivileged schools thanks to the pandemic. Many coaches, contacted comment, lamented about the unprecedented salary cuts they had been compelled to bear with in the recent months.

Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association with the help of Sri Lanka Cricket recently granted some concessions to coaches affected by the pandemic but it is just a short-term measure, and the coaches continue to suffer.

“I have been a cricket coach for years. I do not have experience in any other field and at this age, I cannot train myself for any other job; I am in a dilemma,” a level I coach of a Big Match playing school from the suburbs of Colombo told The Island. The coach of the premier cricket playing school has been training all age group teams (U13, 15, 17 and 19). His salary was first reduced by 25% due to the pandemic; it has been reduced by 50% during the recent months.

A group of coaches mentioned that some of their colleagues from underprivileged schools had been compelled to work at filling stations to keep home fires burning.

Meanwhile, some coaches whose contracts were terminated following the first wave of the pandemic are looking forward to securing new contracts elsewhere for the new season. But a recent Ministry of Education circular, which canceled all sports competitions in schools, has shattered their hopes.

However, a few coaches have been lucky. All coaches contracted by S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia continue to receive their full remuneration. The 70 plus coaching staff, training young Thomian sportsmen in 27 sports, are lucky while hundreds of their counterparts, employed by public and private schools are experiencing severe hardships.

A senior sports administrator of S. Thomas’ College told The Island: “We have paid all coaches their full salaries though we had to cancel training following Ministry of Education directives. We are paying them through the budget allocated in December,”

Uditha comes from the same district Suranga Lakmal, who was lucky to find a place in the Richmond College team before earning a place in the Sri Lanka team. Uditha found a place for his medium pace at Devananda College, Ambalangoda before taking up coaching. It is coaches like Uditha who spot talent like that of Lakmal for Sri Lanka Cricket. Sri Lanka Cricket, which is the richest sports body of the country and the Ministry of Education, should, therefore, look into the grievances of coaches and redress them.

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Sri Lanka to play at Bull Ring and Centurion

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The Wanderers also known as the Bull Ring for its intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams will host the New Year Test.  Sri Lanka have played two Tests there and lost both – by innings margin.

by Rex Clementine

Cricket South Africa (CSA) seem to have learned from their embarrassment last year, when Sri Lanka became the first Asian nation to win a Test series in South Africa and have left no room for complacency when they host Dimuth Karunaratne’s side in December this year. Accordingly, CSA has chosen Wanderers in Johannesburg (also known as the Bull Ring for its intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams) and Centurion for the two Tests.

While officially CSA would say that logistically the two venues, half-hour drive from each other, were ideal to host the two Test series, they are also the quickest tracks in South Africa and Asian teams usually don’t  last three days in those venues.

Sri Lanka for example have played two Tests at Wanderers and have lost both games by innings margin with the two games ending inside three days. At Centurion, meanwhile, Sri Lanka have played four Tests and lost all four (two games by an innings).

The blunder that CSA committed last time Sri Lanka toured South Africa was to schedule the games in the slowest tracks in the country – Durban and Port Elizabeth. That backfired as Sri Lanka clinched the series 2-0. Test match cricket is such a tough game in South Africa, that apart from England and Australia no other team had won a series in that country and Sri Lanka’s achievement surprised many.

Several members of the current squad have unhappy memories of Wanderers and Centurion and they will not be pleased that the games had been slotted there.

The team will stay in one hotel during their month long stay in South Africa and will shuttle between the grounds which are in close proximity to each other. Centurion will host the Boxing Day Test while the Wanderers will host the New Year Test.

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