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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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Steyn to play LPL, but could miss early games  

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By Rex Clementine

Lanka Premier League received a shot in the arm after it was confirmed that pace sensation Dale Steyn will be arriving in the island shortly and will turn out for Kandy Tuskers. However, he will miss the first two games of the competition due to the mandatory isolation period that players have to go through.

Players who had been arriving in Sri Lanka from a bubble had been given a three day isolation period before they could resume training while others had to stay in isolation for seven days. Accordingly, Steyn will be unavailable for the Kandy Tuskers first two games.

However, sources close to the organizers told The Island that negotiations are being made to make exceptions and South Africa’s premier bowler could get into action straightaway if he gets two negative PCR tests, one before departure to Katunayake and one on arrival.

Guidelines have been issued by health authorities to follow strict quarantine guidelines after two players tested positive after arriving in the island. They are now receiving medical treatment and by the time they recover and finish quarantine, the competition would have reached the tail end.

Galle Gladiators received a major boost yesterday after Shahid Afridi confirmed his participation. However, Afridi tweeted that he had missed his flight to Colombo but said will be joining his team mates soon.

The players, support staff and television crew have been in isolation at various hotels in Hambantota for the last several days.

The tournament gets underway on Thursday with Colombo Kings captained by Angelo Mathews taking on Kusal Perera’s Kandy Tuskers.

The tournament was postponed on several occasions as the pandemic posed many challenges for the organizers. But to their credit, they have addressed most of the issues in putting through the event involving five franchises. 

Sri Lanka Cricket will earn US$ two million in the first year and the five year deal will bring them a sum in excess of US$ ten million.

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Dambulla Viikings gear up to conquer

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While a captain is to be officially named this team is not short on leadership; in Dasun Shanaka, Upul Tharanga and Ireland international Paul Stirling, Dambulla boast three players who have captained their sides on the international stage.

Hard work, innovation, team work. These are the three pillars on which the Dambulla Viiking franchise has sought to build their squad for the upcoming inaugural Lanka Premier League. As such their 21-man squad, led by head coach former England cricketer Owais Shah, sees a truly competitive blend comprising the cream of Sri Lankan talent, international experience, and youthful exuberance.

While a captain is to be officially named this team is not short on leadership; in Dasun Shanaka, Upul Tharanga and Ireland international Paul Stirling, Dambulla boast three players who have captained their sides on the international stage. This strong leadership base is supplemented by the considerable international experience of players such as Niroshan Dickwella, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Afghanistan duo Aftab Alam and Samiullah Shinwari, and veterans Anwar Ali from Pakistan, India’s Sudeep Tyagi and Englishman Samit Patel.

The team’s collective of promising Sri Lankan youngsters will no doubt benefit from rubbing shoulders with players of such international stature. Ashen Bandara, Kavindu Nadeeshan, Ramesh Mendis, Sachindu Colombage, Dilshan Madushanka and Pulina Tharanga, may not yet be household names, but given the right opportunity and guidance they are poised to flourish.

Strong Sri Lankan base While possessing a wealth of international talent, the team nevertheless is built around a strong Sri Lankan spine. In Shanaka, Dickwella, Oshada Fernando and Tharanga, Dambulla have four batsmen who have delivered at the highest level, while the big-hitting offered by the likes of Stirling, Patel, Shinwari and Lahiru Madushanka, provide punch in the middle and lower order.

In Angelo Perera and Mendis, Dambulla can also lay claim to two immensely talented players hitting the peak years of their careers; notably, Perera recently became the first player in history to hit two double centuries in a first-class game, while Mendis earlier this year hit an unbeaten first-class triple hundred.

The pace department meanwhile is led by the express Kumara and the precise Rajitha, who are fast becoming mainstays in the national team setup. Supported by bowlers the calibre of Ali, Alam and Tyagi, who are capable of swinging and seaming the ball, Dambulla’s pace attack boasts many strings in its fast-bowling bow.

In the spin-bowling department, it’s Malinda Pushpakumara that will likely lead the way, the veteran left-arm spinner who has taken an astonishing 793 first-class wickets in his career.

Aiding him will be a plethora of spin options, namely the wise old heads of Shinwari and Patel, who will also no doubt play a major role in guiding some of the raw spin talent in the squad.

Crucially many of Dambulla’s bowlers are more than capable with the bat, which will give head coach Shah a pleasant headache when putting together the team.

“We have a great blend of youth and experience, with a lot of complementary skill sets. Once the tournament starts and each teams strengths and weaknesses become clearer, we’re confident of being able to field a strong XI in every game,” said Shah.

Dambulla will play their first match of the LPL on 28 November against the Kandy Tuskers

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Wallabies vs Pumas – Stalemate!

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

This match was played in Newcastle, Sydney, between two teams who are getting a reputation for playing rough and tumble rugby rather than the silky-smooth running and passing game that is what rugby union is about, at least to this writer!

The Wallabies kicked off deep into Puma territory and were obviously looking for an early penalty to bring their placekicker Reece Hodge into the game. The Pumas’ (and the referee) duly obliged and in the second minute a gift penalty right under the posts was converted. Wallabies into the lead 0 – 3. The lead didn’t last very long and in the fifth minute, the Pumas got a slightly more difficult penalty mid-right and around 25 meters away from the post. Sanchez who scores almost all the points for the Pumas these days did the needful and 3 – 3 it was in the sixth minute.

The first scrum of the game was in the 12th minute and it was a rather messy affair, but the Aussies got the ball out and worked the line. Hunter Paisamy at no12 saw a hole in behind the Puma line – a kicked left-footed grubber that had Jordan Patai, the 20-year-old no13 haring after the ball. However, he didn’t quite make it and managed to touch down only when the ball was on the dead-ball line. This was the one and only occasion that anyone from either side (except for once when the Aussie winger went over from a forward pass) came even close to crossing the try line, in the entire game! Now, this event has been described as a tight game and even a bruising encounter, yeah sure but what was the sport? Was it boxing, wrestling, or even a new game called baiting the ref?!! It sure wasn’t rugby football that I would pay money to watch.

The Australians continued to dominate, had most of the possession (around 70%), and played most of the first-half in Puma territory but were unable to threaten the Puma line or even come close to crossing it. Fierce, uncompromising defence from the Pumas was evident for sure, but do top-class rugby union sides spend the best part of 40 minutes inside enemy territory, have 70% of the possession, and remain unable to score a try?

Argentina was able to steal the odd line out by tapping the ball with one hand away from the Aussies, but the Aussies continued to dominate the scrum. The Wallaby number three Taniela Tupou, more like a battle tank than a human was the deciding factor. However, his loose play showed a lack of discipline and control and a tendency to punch anyone near him that was unbecoming of a professional rugby player. One wonders if he was obeying orders, and all this was part of the plan? The Aussie captain kept chirping away at the referees and even got a line out call changed by his insistence. The referee kept asking Michael Hooper if he was satisfied with the referee’s decision, I never heard such a question been directed to the Puma skipper even in English, let alone Spanish!

Three quarters from both sides managed the odd break, the Aussie no 13 Jordan Pataia’s run ended in a defensive penalty but the Pumas managed to get a penalty off their no14’s, run into Aussie territory. Nicolas Sanchez slotted the kick amidst loud boos from the partisan crowd and the Pumas inched ahead 6 – 3 in the 30th minute. This didn’t last too long and in the 33rd minute, Rees Hodge made the ball come back from the left of the posts, using the wind, and gained 3 points from around 38 meters out. Scores level again 6 -6.

So, we had a kicking contest on our hands and the whim and fancy of the referee would dictate the fortunes of the game. In the 38th minute, we saw the aforesaid human tank tight-head prop Taniela Tupou take a swing at Argentina’s most valuable player (this is the sort of thing that makes one wonder and should be analyzed further by world rugby to decide if these are deliberate tactics). Nicolas Sanchez, tiny man that he is succumbed to his Latino temperament and retaliated ( like a fly against a bull) and the wise all-knowing referee decided to reverse the penalty that should have been awarded to Argentina in favor of the Wallabies. Maybe he thought that Sanchez was a tsetse fly and could cause irreparable damage to the bull?!! The resulting touch kick and the line out, saw Aussie winger Korobiete go over the line, but the last pass was blatantly forward and although the referee awarded an on-field try it was overturned by the TV official. Of course, a long advantage was being played and the Aussies got to go back to the spot and try again for touch. The Aussies were desperate for points at this stage and a series of brawls led to an easy penalty being awarded to the more skillful brawlers, the Aussies, mid-left. The gift of three points was accepted and 6 – 9 Aussies in front. At this stage, the Pumas had been warned for excessive foul play and could have a yellow card issued if and when the next offence was so deemed.

This took us into half-time in what can only be reiterated as a brawl in which an oval-shaped white ball was used as a prop of some sort! To call it Rugby Union would be to bring down the wrath of ages upon the sayer. To describe it as a “gripping contest” in which the so much superior Aussie team had been dogged by bad luck and let down by the rub of the green, was the prerogative of the Aussie commentary team. Luckily the mute switch is a feature on modern TV sets!

The Aussies started the second-half with a very deep kick into Puma territory no doubt hoping this created an incident that would trigger the warning that the Argentina team was under. Initially, they got a kickable penalty, but Tom Banks chose to go even deeper into blue and white territory with a touch kick. Lo and behold out came the yellow card and the Argentine Hooker was off for ten minutes in the sin bin. Aussies deep in Argentine territory playing against 14 men. Textbook situation and the stuff of dreams for the “lucky country”! The awarded penalty could have been kicked over even if Reece Hodge had been blindfolded and 6 -11 it was, Wallabies leading.

The Puma skipper who is such an inspirational leader chased down a kick brilliantly and forced a penalty. It was mid-right and around 25 meters out, should have been bread and butter for Sanchez but he missed amidst loud boos and the beginning of a drizzle. We were now in the 46th minute was this going to be the crucial kick? The Wallabies cleared with a massive dropkick that propelled the ball from their 22 into the Argentine 22.

The play progressed with Argentina showing fantastic line speed and an impregnable defence. Another brawl with a penalty reversion this time in favor of the Pumas. At this stage, another skill of the players indulging in this sport which was hard to describe as rugby was displayed. Artistic dives like those employed in soccer to gain penalties, where the player writhes in agony until the penalty is awarded and then recovers miraculously, were employed. The Oscar-winning effort gained a sitter of a penalty for the Wallabies and the score raced ahead to 6 – 15.

With the awarding of a scrum penalty to the Pumas in the 58th minute, we saw a change in the game. Great up and under from Sanchez saw the Pumas go into the Australian 22 but a knock-on saw a scrum with Wallabies having the put in. Another scrum penalty for the Pumas, easily kickable this time saw Sanchez duly oblige 9 – 15. Pumas a goal away from victory.

In the 65th minute, another penalty was awarded to the Pumas. This was around 47 meters away from the posts but dead in front. It was raining now, and the ball was greasy. Would Sanchez kick? He did and brilliantly too, taking the score to 12 – 15. The game was into the 65th minute or so and the Aussie starting halfback Nick White was subbed off. In the 69th minute, the Wallabies were deemed off-side and a penalty awarded on the 50-meter line, slightly left of center. Sanchez stepped up and over she went! Scores level 15 – 15.

At this stage, the inspirational Puma leader and number seven had to go off the field for an HIA. Blatant obstruction by Aussie players who do not bother to make any effort to get onside when one of their players have collected the ball behind them and are running forward, was totally ignored by the match officials but another Puma infringement was spotted and with less than two minutes to go a penalty was awarded to the Wallabies, 40 meters out, mid-left. Bread and butter for Reece Hodge? Easy Mate! Not to be, rugby has some Gods and sometimes they step in to allow fairness to prevail, kick missed, and match drawn.

No one deserved to win that brawl that passed for a game of rugby football and if this is how the game is going to be played in the future, there may not be a future. Certainly, from a spectator’s point of view.

The so-called Rugby Championship tournament is now wide open with all three participating countries level with six points each. Argentina plays the All Blacks next Saturday and the Aussies the Saturday after that. It looks to me that the silverware may have to be shared unless the points of the winning margin are taken into account.

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