A frustrated fan’s viewpoint
by Aravinthan Arunthavanathan
Bhanuka Rajapaksa’s media outburst recently gave rise to polarizing views in cricketing circles. Whether it was warranted or not is a secondary issue, in fact it depends on the lens you chose to review his views, but for a common fan it is so disheartening to see a player of that caliber and talent being forced to vent his frustration in public.
My first memory of Bhanuka was in New Zealand in the 2010 Under-19 World Cup. As Bhanuka was dominating a minnow attack, the commentator was saying “He is showing that he is a brilliant player against mediocre attacks, it is interesting to see how he fares against the big boys”.
Fast forward to 2019 on a dewy night in Lahore, the same Bhanuka jumps down the track, gets inside the line of a 140 plus Wahab Riaz thunderbolt and smacks it over cover for an extravagant six intertwined with nonchalant elegance. If one had gone into oblivion and returned almost a decade later since seeing Bhanuka as a schoolboy cricketer, fair chance is that he would have thought by now Bhanuka was a superstar on World stage. His skill on that tour was such that one would find it hard to believe that he was just playing his first international series. How such a talent did not get a chance shall not be an enigma for anyone who understands the peculiar ways in which Sri Lankan cricket works. At times comprehending the fuel pricing formula and travel restrictions are cakewalks compared to decoding selection policies. While a lot has been heard and read about Bhanuka one thing is clear, he seems to be one who does not mince his words. His views and opinion are so strong and polarized, that at times it almost projects him as an entitled personality finding fault with everyone else but himself.
But imagine being asked to bat out of position in immediate aftermath of having eviscerated the number one bowling attack in the world in one series, and that too lower down the order after a solitary failure. Imagine being asked to forego franchise commitments, losing out on big money only to be thrown out of the squad without a reason. Imagine the commitment being questioned and labeled as sloppy for carrying the gloves while running, that too after almost pulling off a domestic T20 final single handedly with a hamstring injury. Bhanuka Rajapaksa unfortunately has endured it all. Life has certainly been unfair on Bhanuka in his own words and by anyone’s standards.
Before we judge and let the jury out on whether Bhanuka’s recent media outbursts were warranted or not, one must empathize with the agony he must have endured. There could be many others in the same boat. Angelo Perera not many fans’ favourite also had echoed the same thoughts regarding selection policies in a recent interview on a sports program. If you are good enough to be selected, you at least need to be told where you fit in the scheme of things and why you are dropped from the side. Anybody who has worn the national cap deserves that courtesy. It is not an add on feature but a necessity in managing a team. While the new selection committee has shown an inclination towards an inclusive and transparent environment it’s yet to be seen how consistent it would be.
To make matters complicated for Bhanuka the recently introduced fitness standards seem to make him a nonstarter in the race to selection. A stringent selection criterion is essential in the long run to lift the lackluster standards ailing the game. But there would always be exceptions based on the genetics. If at all if that is a valid reason it should be factored in properly. Lasith Malinga recently went on record stating after his foot injury he had to prove his fitness through bowling and no other means. While a uniform scale is an essential there should be secondary mechanisms which are validated to ensure the best talent is not left out due to rigid policies.
It looks like unfair to see a player of Bhanuka’ caliber being kept out of the squad. But change is difficult. There will be casualties for greater good. Bhanuka having ended on the wrong side of the tide seems to be ending up on the wrong end again. He may not play for Sri Lanka anytime soon after his recent outbursts and probably may not never ever wear the national Jersey.
But as a fan who was mesmerized by the 19-year-old back in 2010 and then again in Pakistan all one could hope is he goes onto play domestic leagues and scores truckloads of runs not knocking the door but bulldoze the door so that nobody can keep him out citing any reason.
Bhanuka seems to be that kid who is not happy with the system. It looks justifiable on surface. But history has shown those are the ones who go onto change the world. If Bhanuka turns out to be that person in Sri Lankan context it would be the ultimate high for any Sri Lankan fan and the fairy tale culmination to a career which never got what it deserved.
After all, as Saurav Ganguly recalls, when he was recalled to the Indian side under Greg Chappell after being ousted as skipper, he had to face a baptism of fire on the fiery venomous tracks of South Africa. He faced fire with fire and came out on top to find his place not only in Tests but also the World Cup squad in 2007 and bowed out in 2008 on a high. Only a few years before it seemed impossible. But history has shown nothing is impossible.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa has dished out a welcome, audacious stream of words which has created a stir. Now he would have to perform way more than what he would have had to prior to his outbursts. It will be interesting to see how he emerges out of this. But as a Sri Lankan fan all one could wish is that the nonchalance mixed with aggression in Bhanuka’s batting will be seen for years to come.
(This writer’s blogs can be found at “Cricketing Perspectives” on Facebook)
Nilani’s chances and the importance of quality competition
by Reemus Fernando
It will be an anxious few days for country’s number one long distance runner Nilani Ratnayake as the Tokyo Olympic qualification deadline looms. For a better part of the last two years Ratnayake was country’s highest ranked athlete in the ‘Road to Olympic Rankings’. In the Asian Rankings she was only second to Winfred Mutile Yavi of Bahrain in her pet event, the 3,000 metres steeplechase. In the ‘Road to Olympic Rankings she was well within the required rankings to earn the ticket to Tokyo. But two weeks ahead of the Olympic qualification deadline she has dropped to the 39th position. But that is not due to a lack of commitment or form but due to things beyond her control.
Lack of quality competitions to compensate solid training regimens has been a problem ailing country’s progress in track and field. Though experts, mostly the former athletes and Olympians who had benefited from overseas training and competitions, have repeatedly highlighted the need to provide quality competitions for local athletes, they have often fell on deaf ears. The World Athletics’ world ranking system, which heavily favours top grade competitions, requires athletes seeking top rankings to compete in such championships. An athlete seeking Olympic qualification has to excel at top competitions if he or she is to realize the dream of competing at the quadrennial event.
The Covid 19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the aspirations of country’s Olympic hopefuls in the track and field sport as they have been deprived of quality competitions to improve their rankings. The Asian Athletics Championship did not take place due to the pandemic and many other regional competitions also did not see the light of day due to the same reason.
In a desperate move Sri Lanka Athletics tried to send their top athletes for a meet in Kazakhstan but lack of interest from the part of organizers in helping visa proceedings derailed the plan. The Indian Track and Field authorities have extended an invitation to their Sri Lankan counterparts to field a team for their Inter State meet starting on June 25 but the tour was still doubtful when this article went to press.
The US based high jumper Ushan Thivanka climbed up the world rankings in dramatic fashion during the last few months. But he is stranded in the 52nd position in the Road to Olympic Rankings due to unavailability of competitions. Thivanka has a seasonal best of 2.30 metres, his new Sri Lanka record, but needs to clear 2.33 metres or reach a ranking position of 32 if he is to compete in Olympics.
There are others. Rio Olympic participant Sumeda Ranasinghe is currently ranked 48th in the Road to Olympic Rankings, middle distance runner Nimali Liyanarachchi is ranked 55th, just seven ranking positions behind the selection mark and sprinter Nadeesha Ramanayake is ranked 56th and needs to climb just eight positions up if she is to realize her dream.
Now take the case of Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon. He needed just a single Diamond League Competition last week to overtake more than thirty athletes and secure a position among the top 50 athletes in the world rankings. He was placed fourth there. He is now almost certain of his participation in the Olympics as he has couple of more competitions to maintain his rankings.
It is no simple task to secure a position among the top 100 athletes in the world. There are other local athletes who have secured positions among the top 100 athletes in the world in their respective disciplines despite not taking part in quality international competitions. They have toiled hard for years to reach where they are and with the hope of doing their best this year. They will feel hard done by as hopes of reaching qualifying standards diminish due to lack of competitions.
Nilani Ratnayake’s chances of competing in Tokyo will depend on the performances of her rivals who are ranked below her during the next week. Ratnayake last competed in an international event in 2019. She needs to remain within the top 48 athletes in world rankings by June 29 if she is to take part.
True that the Covid 19 pandemic was responsible for the lost opportunities that denied chances of improving world rankings but it is incumbent upon authorities to realize the value of making available quality competitions for deserving athletes.
Sportsmen, sponsors and ambush marketing
by Rex Clementine
For the T-20 World Cup that is scheduled for later this year, the Sri Lankan players like all else will be supposed to sign participation agreements and one key point in these agreements is the ‘Ambush Marketing Clause’. This particular clause protects the sponsors of the International Cricket Council and players are supposed not to endorse any rival products of the official sponsors during and 30 days either side of the event.
How and why did the ‘Ambush Marketing Clause’ come about? Here’s how. During the 1996 World Cup, Coca-Cola had signed up as one of the tournament sponsors and promoted their drinks with the tag-line, ‘the official soft-drinks of the World Cup’. Pepsi, another giant in the trade, hit back running television advertisements that you are chilled out and relaxed with a Pepsi in hand and they used some clever words, ‘Nothing official about it.’
They went a step or two further actually. Pepsi had leading Indian players like Mohammad Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar as their brand ambassadors. Now during drinks break, a Coke trolley would come into the ground but none of India’s leading players would go closer to it and one of the reserve players from the dressing room would bring them drinks separately.
This was a huge cause for concern and the ICC had to address the issue. Soon, the Ambush Marketing Clause came to effect. The players were up in arms, naturally, as they were losing out some big endorsements. But with home boards promising to compensate the players, they eventually signed the contracts.
Some Sri Lankan players too cashed in during the 2003 World Cup. They never had any deals with rival companies of the official sponsors but they made most of the stance the Indian players had taken. Hemaka Amarasuriya, the Chairman of the Cricket Board at that point, told the players to sign the agreement, play the tournament and that they would be compensated accordingly. Amarasuriya kept a gentleman’s agreement by parting ways with 25% of the participation fee that the ICC paid the board.
Successive Sri Lanka Cricket administrations have followed Amarasuriya’s lead although the amount has been cut down in recent times as the performance of the team has been below par.
There was a reason for us to suddenly bring up the Ambush Marketing Clause. Anyone who is following EURO 2020 would have seen the plight of soft drinks giant Coke after Portugal captain Christiano Rolando removed two Coca-Cola bottles from the press conference table. Coke has reportedly suffered four billion US$ fall of the share prices.
Since Ronaldo, other players have followed suit. Each sponsor paid a sum of US$ 30 million for the organizers and the fall out is sure to have major repercussions. Incidentally, Coke used to be a personal sponsor of Ronaldo years back.
Ronaldo’s action is nothing new in sports. During the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, basketball star Michael Jordan covered the Reebok logo in his official kits strategically draping it with an American flag. This was to show solidarity with his personal sponsor Nike.
The millions that sponsors pour in is vital to nurture any sport at grass root levels. The marketing experts of sports bodies must be fretting over on the measures that need to be taken to protect their sponsors from superstars who have massive following all over the world. Ronaldo’s actions could take sports marketing to different scales.
Karatekas of the Shitoryu Shukokai Karate Society win third place
The medal winning karatekas with Chief Instructor Sensei Lakshman Saparamadu.
Karatekas of the Shitoryu Shukokai Karate Society won 33 medals at the E – Kata International Karate Tournament recently.
This team were placed third at the tournament organized by the United Universal Shotokan Karate Association. The event was conducted using video technology. Some thirty counties participated in this tournament.
Karatekas fielded by Shitoryu Shukokai Karate Society won twelve gold, eleven silver and ten bronze medals. They were trained by Shitoryu Shukokai Karate Society’s Chief Instructor, Sensei , Lakshman Saparamadu. (Text and pic by W.D. Vithana Delgoda Corr.)
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